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Maryland Sports Betting Edges Closer To Launch But Fall Unlikely

After being scolded by the governor for its snail-like pace, the commission trying to implement mobile sports betting in Maryland offered some hints of progress this week—but still slow progress nonetheless.

Loose timeline announced for launch of Maryland sports betting after several delays
🐢 Delay partly caused by SWARC waiting for diversity review to be completed
🏈 Extremely tight window to launch Maryland sports betting in time for Week 1 of NFL season

The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission in a meeting Wednesday set forth a vague timeline for the approval and implementation for draft regulations on mobile sports betting, which chairman Thomas Brandt hoped would be wrapped up in time to allow the licensing process to take place in late summer. Such a schedule—if it’s met—would give Maryland the faintest hope of launching mobile sports wagering in time for NFL betting this fall.

That’s certainly the preference of Gov. Larry Hogan, who earlier this month blistered SWARC for a perceived lack of urgency in launching mobile sports betting, which typically makes up 90 percent of sports betting in states where it’s been legalized. Maryland launched retail sports betting on Dec. 9, 2021, seven months after Hogan signed the practice into law.

“Marylanders have grown frustrated waiting for mobile sports wagering as they have watched it become available in state after state across the country, including our neighboring jurisdictions of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.,” Hogan wrote to SWARC on June 16. “I share in their frustration.”

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Are we making it too hard?’

Five casinos now offer retail sports betting in Maryland: Live! In Hanover, MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Horseshoe Baltimore, Hollywood in Perryville and Ocean Downs in Berlin. Although three off-track betting establishments and a bingo facility have also been granted licenses, those entities do not yet have operational facilities and have yet to process their first wagers.

The delay in launching mobile sports betting is due in part to a complex law that mandates SWARC consider the involvement of women- and minority-owned businesses in its licensing procedures, given that one class of mobile license involves bars, restaurants and entities like bowling alleys and golf courses. SWARC has had to wade through 89 pages of regulations, delaying a mobile licensing process that other states have rolled out in around six months.

In Wednesday’s meeting, SWARC members debated whether even the draft of license applications had grown too complicated, given that they required prospective mobile operators to submit organization charts, capitalization tables, financial statements, business and marketing plans, and tax returns for a two-year period, among other documents.

“Are we overdoing it? Are we making it too hard, all we’re asking for?” said Brandt. “That’s a lot for a restaurant or startup.”

Commissioner Frank Turner agreed. “For the average person, that’s going to be overwhelming,” he said. “Let’s not fool ourselves, that’s a lot of information.”

Adjusting expectations

Kimberly M. Copp, co-chair of the Gaming Industry Group at Taft, the law firm helping SWARC write the license applications, said the requirements in the Maryland draft application came from similar forms in other jurisdictions. “As much as we want to say, ‘For smaller businesses, we shouldn’t be as stringent,’ they’re taking money from citizens in the state of Maryland on wagers, and we need to protect that integrity,” she added.

Other matters also remain unresolved. SWARC is still awaiting the results of a state-mandated study, which began in March, into how more women and minorities can be incorporated into the state’s mobile sports betting industry. None of it inspires confidence that Maryland will have betting apps ready to launch in time for the NFL season opener on Sept. 8.

It doesn’t help that SWARC approval is only one step. Draft regulations must then be forwarded to the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review for its review and approval, after which follows a 30-day public comment period.

Those steps “are legally required of us,” Brandt said. “I’m sharing this information to help us all adjust expectations as we proceed with our responsibility.”

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