Sen. Craig Zucker is confident he would have had a complete Maryland sports betting bill for this year’s referendum had the coronavirus pandemic not shut everything down.
Everything did shut down, though, including the Maryland legislature in Annapolis. That left Zucker to strip the bill and instead made this year’s referendum a yes/no vote on whether to legalize sports betting in general.
“We had five seconds left on the shot clock and had to get out,” Zucker said.
Now, the referendum failed to gain the support of the state’s biggest newspaper, The Baltimore Sun. The Sun‘s editorial staff suggested voting no, mostly because there are no firm details behind the proposal.
The editorial came shortly after a DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook-funded campaign backing the referendum launched.
Maryland sports betting referendum expected to pass?
Even without the backing of the newspaper, legal sports betting in Maryland will likely begin sometime next year.
“The last polling that I saw said 57% of Marylanders who were polled approve and plan to support sports betting,” Zucker said.
Legislators would outline details on MD sports betting, including who gets licenses and at what tax rate, next year. But those details aren’t some big mystery like the Sun suggests. The bill will likely look a lot like S 4 did before it was stripped, Zucker said.
“I think last year’s piece of legislation that passed unanimously out of the Senate was a good roadmap to where I think we’re probably going to wind up,” Zucker explained.
That would likely result in retail and online sports betting through the state’s six casinos, three horse tracks and maybe even a license for the Washington Football Team. The bill proposed revenue be taxed at 20% with licenses costing between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.
Taxes will go toward education
The editorial posits there’s no guarantee the tax money will go to education:
The potential revenue for the state — estimated to be around $18 million if taxed at 20% — is not nothing. But it’s not enough to make a significant dent in education or other Maryland costs and certainly not enough to justify proceeding without a clear plan or a requirement that the money go toward education, if that’s the way lawmakers want to play it.
That’s not exactly true, though. From the text of S 4:
SECTION 2. AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That, if the voters of this State adopt a referendum that authorizes sports and event wagering in the State, the State’s share of revenues generated by sports and event wagering shall primarily be used for the funding of public education.
That appears to cover the main concern. If that’s not enough, Zucker confirmed again to LSR funding for education is the plan.
Maryland needs those tax dollars
Maryland’s Education Trust Fund isn’t exactly in a position to be turning down cash either.
The coronavirus pandemic led to $150 million less for the fund this year, Zucker said. That’s because it’s funded by the state’s casino operators, which shut down for about three months.
“Any amount of money is helpful and we’re expecting a minimum of $20 million (annually,)” Zucker said.
Legalizing sports betting about more than tax dollars
While the tax dollars are a nice incentive, there’s more to legalizing mobile sports betting for Zucker.
“It’s not only a loss of money, it’s a loss of convenience for Marylanders,” he said.
Zucker noted how someone in downtown Silver Spring can walk a block into Washington DC and place a bet on the GambetDC app.