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Long Wait for Maryland Mobile Sports Betting Apps Nearly Over

Maryland figures to be the next jurisdiction to launch online sports betting after a long and, for many, a frustrating wait following a referendum in November 2020 when voters approved sports wagering by a 2-to-1 margin.

Now, nearly two years after Maryland voters gave a resounding “Yes” to sports gambling, mobile sports wagering has a chance to start in late November although some time in December may be more feasible.

When the referendum was held, the Maryland vote was a straight up-or-down ballot question with no details being given regarding how sports betting would be implemented in the state. Those many details were left to the state’s General Assembly and what came out of the state legislature during the 2021 legislative session was a sports gambling law that boldly put diversity and inclusion front-and-center. That admirable goal would turn out to be easier stated than implemented.

Licensing Process Stalls Online Launch

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed the sports gambling law in May 2021 and in December, retail sports wagering was being rolled out in five of the state’s six casinos. Later, smaller businesses, such as OTBs and a bingo facility, were approved for retail sports gambling and a few actually started taking bets. Along the way, the state has been collecting some tax money from retail sports betting.

However, mobile sports wagering — where almost everyone expects the bulk of sports wagering to occur as it has in most jurisdictions — was bogged down in the state’s two-tiered licensing-approval process. Drawing heat for the delay was the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), an independent commission that was created in the Maryland sports betting law.

While the state’s Lottery and Gaming Control Commission was prepared to field applications and carry out necessary investigations, the SWARC found itself entangled with potential legal ramifications of carrying out its diversity and inclusion responsibilities.

Meanwhile, sports betting enthusiasts, noting quicker roll-outs of online gambling in other states, such as Arizona, grew impatient, and that impatience was shared by the state’s governor. Earlier this year, Hogan publicly urged the SWARC to speed up things and get mobile sports gambling launched by the start of the NFL season.

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Working Through Minority Participation

While that did not happen, SWARC, which is composed of commissioners appointed by both the legislature and the governor, came to a resolution on how to encourage participation by minority- and women-owned businesses in the sports wagering industry without running afoul of federal and state laws. A certain percentage of gambling companies’ equity must be owned by entities below a certain financial threshold.

That helped break the logjam and in October, the Lottery & Gaming Control Commission found 20 entities (in effect, two each paired together) “qualified” for online sports gambling licenses. Those findings were passed to the SWARC which has the task of determining “suitability” and it will vote on “awarding” licenses. 

The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission scheduled a special meeting for Nov. 16 where it will vote on awarding licenses to the entities that were found qualified by the state Lottery & Gaming Control Commission. Once that SWARC vote happens, the awardees then return to the Lottery & Gaming Control Agency for final phase approvals, notably a controlled demonstration of procedures and operations. Once mobile licenses are issued, online betting can begin.

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National Operators Lining Up

Already, some online gaming companies have been offering promotional incentives to potential betting customers in anticipation of the wagering beginning soon.

Online wagering companies that have been found “qualified” by Lottery & Gaming are a rollcall of familiar brands, such as BetMGM Sportsbook Maryland, Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel, Rush Street Interactive and PointsBet. And the state’s major casinos are represented, including MGM National Harbor, Live! Casino & Hotel, Horseshoe Baltimore and Hollywood Perryville. Plus, the Washington Commanders’ stadium, FedExField is also in the early mix.

In addition to online sports betting, it’s expected there will be applicants for competitive retail licenses and more online operators will have an opportunity to apply for mobile licenses (the state actually allows for as many 60 mobile operators although no one believes there will be that many applicants). 

Also, not to be overlooked is that sports gambling taxes — the tax rate is 15% — mainly go toward education, Maryland’s Future Fund.

Once the Maryland online and even the retail sports gambling market, which may include a number of smaller local businesses, has a chance to evolve and mature, it will be an interesting, important and hopefully, an encouraging, laboratory on pairing social interests with the entertainment and business aspects of sports gambling.

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