Maryland Online Sports Betting Likely More Than A Year Away

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Mobile Electronic Traffic Sign stating “expect Delays”

Maryland sports betting is taking the slow and steady route, but it will not win any races.

Despite Gov. Larry Hogan signing sports betting legislation in May, online sports betting in Maryland likely will not launch for another year, according to John Martin, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. Retail sports betting could launch sometime around New Year’s Day, but there is no guarantee for that, either, Martin said.

Martin provided those timelines to LSR this week, ahead of two meetings Thursday:

Maryland retail sports betting soon?

The SWARC can approve five casinos for retail sportsbook licenses Thursday. Those casinos received MLGCC approval for alternative licensing standards in October.

Even then, Martin said the MLGCA will need another 30 to 45 days for final approvals before the sportsbooks can open, setting a course for right around Jan. 1, 2022.

Whether those five get the nod Thursday is anybody’s guess, Martin said. He also acknowledges the SWARC has an incredible amount of legal challenges to navigate.

“There is no indication,” he said. “They have all the information that they need to make an informed decision. If it doesn’t happen, then we’re waiting at least another week or two. Then it’s asking if we are going to make the playoffs or the Super Bowl?

“I’d love to help, I just don’t know how we can because so many things are in their court.”

The MLGCC is expected to add a sixth license to the list Thursday: PointsBet at the Riverboat on the Potomac.

Maryland casinos impatient

Three of the major casinos in Maryland submitted a joint letter to the SWARC Monday. In the letter, the trio pushes for “speedy consideration” and asks for clarification about the delay.

The three casinos are among the 17 entities named in MD sports betting legislation to automatically qualify for sports betting licenses:

In the letter, the casinos acknowledge the SWARC has not informed the casinos of the reason for the delay, but that a second disparity study for competitive licenses is in the works. To that, the letter reads:

“While the undersigned acknowledge SWARC’s statutory authority under subsection (h) to conduct a second disparity study and to undertake any attendant evaluation for purposes of awarding Class B license, SWARC’s exercise of that statutory authority is not a valid basis to delay the prompt award of licenses to Class A applicants.”

Frustration foaming in Maryland

Maryland voters approved sports betting in November 2020. Hogan has been among those expressing displeasure at the delay at the SWARC level.

“It’s a problem and I’m sure they’re all going to be sued by all the people whose licenses have already been approved,” Hogan told Maryland Matters.

Martin said he understands the sentiments of citizens and casinos alike.

“They’re in business in other jurisdictions and they understand what it takes to go to market,” he said. “A painful part of that is [citizens are] not waiting, we’re surrounded by jurisdictions that offer sports wagering and people will find a way.

“Each week we’re seeing millions of dollars of Maryland revenue go to other jurisdictions or the black market.”

SWARC has legislative support

The General Assembly has significant input on the SWARC, as the House and Senate each appointed two members. Hogan appointed the other three.

During the legislative process, legislators made it clear the SWARC needs to ensure minority- and female-owned businesses take part in the industry. The commission is tasked with including the minority- and female-owned businesses while keeping industry stalwarts happy.

“SWARC is an independent sports wagering licensing entity,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said in a tweet. “I wholeheartedly trust in the ability of the independent commissioners — including the Governor’s own appointed representatives — to consider all information and use their best judgment to issue licenses fairly.”

Mobile sports betting long way off

Martin said mobile sports betting might not launch until late 2022 and that estimate is partially based on the process playing out now with already-licensed Maryland casinos. Part of the SWARC’s delay is their desire to run another disparity study on the industry.

Martin said that study has yet to start. While the study will help the SWARC determine the standards and regulations of how to award the competitive 30 retail sportsbooks and up to 60 mobile operators, it will greatly delay the regulatory process. The Maryland legislature must approve those standards, including a public comment period.

Then the SWARC will open an application process and it will evaluate applicants once the window closes. Once the SWARC finds suitable applicants, it passes them on to the MLGCA for qualification, before heading back to the SWARC again for official licensing. Once through those hoops, the MLGCA can finish technical approvals.

“That process will take longer because we’ll have less familiar clientele,” Martin said. “For this thing to run smoother, that relay race, the baton back-and-forth, we’ve got to work on those exchanges or we could be doing this for another year.”

Making MD sports betting run smoother

Several other states passed sports betting legislation around the same time as Maryland. Since then, Arizona sports betting and Wyoming sports betting are live with online operators.

Louisiana sports betting hit a snag with Hurricane Ida this summer, but retail sportsbooks are opening with online sports betting expected in early 2022.

So what is the hangup in Maryland?

“It’s tough to comment,” Martin said. “A lot of people have looked at the law as it is written and there might be some different interpretations of it; two separate but equal interpretations.

“The net of it is, we have to work tighter, we have to force that process. We do two things, they do two things and if they’re not in sync, they don’t work as smoothly.”