Following months of delays and discontent, the application process for competitive Maryland sports betting licenses is open.
Operators looking to secure one of the 60 online MD sports betting licenses or 30 retail licenses can submit their applications, according to a release Tuesday from the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.
Businesses have 45 days to submit before the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) begins reviewing applicants in hopes of having operators live by the end of the year. The application deadline is Oct. 21.
“We know sports fans are eager to have mobile wagering, and we also know that it will substantially increase the contributions to education funding, so we’re eager too,” MLGCA Director John Martin said in a release. “We’ve been doing everything we can to have it launch before the end of the year, and now we have a good chance to make that happen.”
Sudden rush for Maryland sports betting
Marylanders voted in favor of sports betting in 2020 and supporting legislation allowed retail sportsbooks to open in December 2021. The SWARC, however, struggled to put together regulations and applications for competitive licenses.
In June, Gov. Larry Hogan put pressure on the SWARC, which increased pressure on commissioners. The SWARC sent forward draft regulations and applications at its July meeting.
SWARC Chairman Thomas Brandt then sent a letter in late August to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, urging it to approve the regulations so the application process could begin. AELR approved the regulations Sept. 2.
Diversity efforts caused stall in Maryland
A significant reason for the delay in the competitive license process was the SWARC’s legislative mandate to ensure a diverse industry in the state. The commission was waiting on a disparity study that finished in August.
The SWARC concluded then it “is not able to apply any race- and/or gender-conscious criteria in its evaluation of applicants.”
Instead, applicants must demonstrate at least 5% ownership by individuals with a net worth of no more than $1.847 million. AELR also added a requirement that applicants submit a diversity plan to the SWARC within 30 days of their submission.
Can Maryland sports betting launch before 2023?
Hogan hoped for a mobile debut to capture the entire NFL betting season, and Brandt suggested in his letter that online sportsbooks could take wagers during the season. In July, however, MLGCA staff told the SWARC everything would have to go smoothly to launch by the Super Bowl.
Once the application process closes Oct. 21, SWARC will have 45 days to review the licenses as the MLGCA completes its background investigations. The MLGCA must find the operators qualified before SWARC awards licenses.
“Maryland Lottery and Gaming has been hard at work on background investigations,” Martin said. “A number of businesses that are planning to apply for mobile licenses have already submitted information to get their investigations started, and our licensing staff will continue guiding them through the qualification procedures.
“We’re focused on expediting our part of the process so mobile betting can start as soon as possible.”
Maryland expediting the process
In his letter this summer, Hogan suggested the SWARC prioritize awarding mobile licenses to the 17 entities named in sports betting legislation for retail sportsbooks. A similar prioritization helped five sportsbooks open in December 2021.
The MLGCA already regulates most of the 17 businesses. Several of those entities partnered with mobile sportsbook operators licensed in other jurisdictions.
Those factors could potentially push forward an online launch.