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Maryland Sports Betting Approved By Voters

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G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Maryland voters approved sports betting on the 2020 ballot, bringing legal wagering to the last remaining Mid-Atlantic state without a licensed sportsbook.

With more than 70% of the vote counted, the “yes” vote was up by a two-to-one margin,.

[Where All 50 States Stand with Sports Betting]

When Does Maryland Sports Betting Start?

Sports betting in Maryland should begin as early as 2021.

The ballot measure simply amended the constitution to permit sports betting. Lawmakers will still need to pass key details such as eligible operators and tax rates when they return for the 2021 legislative session scheduled to begin early next year.

Legislators in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, as well as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, largely supported legal wagering, so it appears it will be just a matter of when, not if, elected officials pass the necessary follow up legislation.

A more comprehensive bill that answered many of these key questions was making its way through the legislature before the 2020 session was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With time short, the legislature scrapped the more thorough bill for a far simpler proposal that placed the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Passing a bill, even one with as much completed work and political momentum as sports betting, will still likely take several months as lawmakers hash out key details. The ensuing months of regulatory and licensing work will also take several months, so sports betting seems unlikely to begin in the first half of the year.

Other states have worked to approve legal wagering in time for football season, the most lucrative sport for U.S. sportsbooks, so it’s reasonable to assume a late summer or early fall 2021 launch in Maryland.

It’s a safe bet lawmaker will still support retail sportsbooks at the state’s six commercial casinos. It also seems Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park racetrack and the Maryland State Fairgrounds will all be permitted sportsbooks as well.

Online betting also seems likely, especially after border neighbors Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Washington D.C. all approved mobile wagering. Elected officials will determine how many online licenses will be available between the casinos, tracks or potential other operators.

Was Sports Betting in Maryland Expected to Pass?

As one of the more affluent and politically liberal states, Maryland seemed a likely sports betting candidate. Limited public polling showed roughly even support earlier in the year, but a combination of support groups — and only token opposition — helped push public opinion toward the “yes” vote.

As with most political campaigns, money was a major factor. Supporter organization, most notably DraftKings and FanDuel, contributed more than $3 million to back the ballot measure. Organized opposition groups raised $0, allowing sports betting backers (and the largest corporate beneficiaries of legal wagering) one-sided marketing access.

The state’s budget concerns also helped sports betting. The ballot measure specifically directed sports wagering tax revenues toward education funding, which has widespread appeal to politicians and voters and was a focal point of ads supporting the ballot measure. With the state facing budget shortfalls in the pandemic’s wake, backers promoted legal wagering as an education funding boost, even if voters were ambivalent toward sports betting in and of itself.

Legal wagering’s proliferation in the region was also likely a factor. Thousands of Marylanders commute daily to Washington D.C., which already has online sports betting, and thousands more commute to Virginia, which will launch its own digital wagering options in the coming months.

With wagering already legal surrounding Maryland, backers framed the ballot measure as a way to keep residents’ dollars from crossing state lines.

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