Maryland Hands Out First Sportsbook Licenses, But Online Betting Will Still Lag

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MD sports betting licenses

The Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission awarded the first five Maryland sports betting licenses Thursday.

Following a lengthy discussion about inclusion, the SWARC approved the licenses in a 5-2 vote. Those retail sportsbooks will likely open sometime around Jan. 1, 2022, according to a timeline previously laid out by John Martin, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

“It’s our duty to do the job,” said Commissioner E. Randolph Marriner, who is also the chairman of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission. “Every day we don’t pass people we’ve found to be qualified, the state of Maryland is losing revenue.”

Along with the vote for the five licenses, the SWARC also discussed how commissioners hope to establish a process to award competitive Class B and mobile licenses. Martin told LSR this week it will likely be another year until mobile sports betting in Maryland launches.

Maryland sports betting licenses awarded

The SWARC awarded retail sports betting licenses to five casinos that previously received MLGCA alternative licensing standards:

MLGCA staff still must approve the operations of the retail sportsbooks, which Martin said will take 30 to 45 days. The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission voted to delegate the authority to issue licenses at a meeting Thursday afternoon.

Like the five other casinos previously, the MLGCC approved alternative licensing standards for a PointsBet Sportsbook at the Riverboat on the Potomac Thursday’s meeting. Fourteen of the 17 establishments earmarked for retail sportsbooks in legislation have started the application process.

Split opinions on awarding licenses

With a legislative directive to ensure minority- and women-owned business involvement in the sports betting industry, several SWARC commissioners are concerned about the optics of moving forward five applicants without majority-minority or -woman ownership.

That worry was enough for Commissioner Cassandra Stevenson and Commissioner Frank Turner to vote no. Earlier in the meeting, Turner said he felt he was “being rushed.”

Commissioner Rosie Allen-Herring said she wished the legislation did not earmark licenses and that applicants with diverse ownership were included in this early group. Still, Allen-Herring voted to approve the licenses.

Diverse applicants in Maryland sports betting pipeline

Several of the retail sportsbook license applicants established in legislation have minority and woman ownership. At the SWARC’s last meeting, commissioners requested additional ownership information of the 17 named entities.

Eleven of the establishments responded with supplemental ownership information:

One entity with minority ownership is the Riverboat on the Potomac.

Mobile sports betting is where the money waits

The SWARC has yet to establish guidelines and regulations for mobile sports betting. Before voting for the five retail licenses, the commission’s legal counsel from Taft Stettinius & Hollister explained the US sports betting landscape.

Kim Copp, co-chair of Taft’s gaming industry group, said retail sportsbooks at the 17 establishments outlined in legislation would not gain a meaningful competitive advantage. That is because up to 95% of sports betting revenue will come from mobile, she said.

Mobile licensing plan still in process

Taft Partner Cezar Froelich said they are working on a comprehensive plan to “deploy the mobile and additional Class B licenses.” That will likely limit the licenses below the 60 available in legislation and potentially tether them to the 30 competitive Class B licenses.

A push for a uniform mobile launch could also be in play to ensure an equal playing field.

Based on the Taft comments, Commissioner Laura Gamble said the diversity focus should be on the mobile process.