The Maryland sports betting process has slowed to a crawl, with no clear end in sight.
Last week, the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission postponed its scheduled third meeting, where it was set to potentially approve three retail sports betting licenses. SWARC representatives gave no indication why the meeting was postponed.
The SWARC has not set a new meeting date. Last week, an industry source told LSR that Maryland sports betting is a “mess” and does not expect online sportsbooks to launch until at least the 2022 NFL betting season.
Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency Director John Martin previously said he expects sports betting to launch by late fall 2021. While the 17 retail sportsbooks named in MD sports betting legislation could open this fall, Martin recently told Fox 5 DC online sportsbooks could still be up to 12 months from launching.
Waiting on Maryland sports betting study
At its Sept. 21 meeting, SWARC members discussed in a closed session the possibility of a new disparity review study for minority involvement in the industry. The commission approved the additional study unanimously in a quick vote following the closed session.
At the end of that meeting, there was hesitancy to schedule the Oct. 14 meeting as commissioners were figuring out the next steps.
“I don’t dare think we try to push any faster, we’re not dragging our feet by any stretch,” SWARC Chairman Thomas Brandt said when they set the October date.
When contacted by LSR last week, Brandt declined to comment on the situation.
What SWARC is working on
The commission is working on how to award up to 30 Class B licenses and 60 mobile licenses in Maryland. Legislation requires SWARC to give preference to minority- and women-owned businesses in the industry.
There was a discussion during the Sept. 21 meeting to tie mobile licenses to Class B licenses to ensure minority involvement.
“We have to take a look at the interplay between the mobile and Class B licenses,” Cezar Froelich, chairman of law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister, told the committee. “If you just go out and issue the Class B by themselves without taking into account that it has to be beneficial for a mobile sports operator, you could find yourself in a circumstance Class B don’t get picked up.”
Maryland governor encouraging speedy process
Gov. Larry Hogan recently urged residents to contact SWARC members.
“Tell the legislature’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission to allow football season betting to begin,” Hogan tweeted with the commission’s email address.
Hogan’s tweet came shortly after a resident chided the governor during the public comment period for the state’s sports betting regulations.
Three Maryland sportsbooks near finish line
At last week’s meeting, SWARC could have awarded licenses to three retail sportsbooks. That step would clear the way for those retail sportsbooks to open once they pass MLGCA internal controls requirements.
The three licenses are for casinos already holding MD gaming licenses:
- Horseshoe Casino (Caesars Sportsbook)
- Live! Casino & Hotel (FanDuel Sportsbook)
- MGM National Harbor (BetMGM Sportsbook)
Those are three of the 17 establishments named in legislation to receive a retail license. The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission approved them for alternative licensing standards Oct. 6.
New meeting this week
The MLGCC will meet Oct. 21 and will hear updates from Martin and other agency representatives.
The commission will also hold qualification hearings for two more casinos named in legislation for retail licenses:
- Ocean Downs Casino
- Hollywood Casino
Maryland regulators taking heat for sports betting delay
Hogan signed sports betting legislation in May 2021. During the legislative process, legislators expressed hope sports betting in MD would be up and running for the football season.
Arizona sports betting and Wyoming sports betting both launched last month after the states passed legislation earlier this year. Those aspects have left Maryland residents a bit impatient after they voted for sports betting last November.
Martin, however, explained to Fox 5 DC those expectations are not the fault of Maryland regulators.
“All the talk about the start of football season, none of that was expressed by Maryland Lottery and Gaming, and we were the ones charged with bringing it to market,” Martin told the network. “You can point to other places and say, ‘Well how come they’re up and running?’ Well they don’t have nearly the depth and the scope and the comprehensiveness that we have in Maryland.
“We sell integrity and so we’ve got to make sure the financial integrity is in place, the criminal backgrounds are in place, and that the wherewithal is in place for those entities who want to get into it to be able to withstand the highs and lows of what can happen in sports wagering.”