Maryland Sports Betting Approval Faces Another Delay
Drew Angerer/Getty Images. Pictured: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
A Maryland regulatory body set to license the state’s first sportsbooks Thursday has postponed its meeting, likely further delaying the go-live date for legal sports betting.
The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), the committee tasked with approving the state’s sportsbooks, was set to license three casinos’ retail books at its Thursday meeting. The commission website had crossed out the meeting from its agenda earlier this week.
No make-up date or reason was publicly announced at the time of this article’s publication.
Earlier this month the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission, which works with the SWARC to license sportsbooks, advanced retail sportsbook licenses for Horseshoe Casino Baltimore (Caesars), Live! Casino and Hotel Maryland (FanDuel) and MGM National Harbor (BetMGM).
The commission said in a statement announcing its approval it expected the SWARC to follow suit, the penultimate step in each books’ launch. Thursday’s meeting postponement prolongs this approval.
Once granted licensure by the SWARC, each sportsbook must then pass final regulatory inspection from the gaming commission, a process that could take several additional weeks.
Regulators have said in recent months retail sports betting would launch sometime “late fall.” It remains to be seen how long or to what extent the SWARC’s meeting delay will prolong this process.
Regardless, it means Maryland will continue without a legal sports betting option through even more of the 2021 football season, perennially American sportsbooks’ most lucrative time of the year.
Meanwhile, Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin told a DC FOX affiliate last week he doesn’t expect online sports betting to begin for another six to 12 months. Online betting is, like in most other statewide with mobile wagering, expected to account for 85% or more of Maryland’s betting handle.
Maryland Sports Betting Rollout
Following an amendment to the state constitution overwhelmingly backed by Maryland voters in November 2020, Gov. Larry Hogan signed the state’s sports betting legalization bill in May of this year. The ensuing regulatory process to begin legal sports betting is still ongoing.
Each of the roughly two-dozen states to pass sports betting legislation has undertaken some form of rule making and licensing review process, a necessary measure to approve qualified sportsbooks and ensure consumer protections. Maryland’s 2020 constitutional amendment and ensuing legislation created a multi-faceted licensing procedure, part of which has prolonged the sports betting launch.
In addition to the established gaming commission, the 2021 legislation created the SWARC, an independent regulatory body that grants the state’s sports betting licenses. The commission was designed to ensure a wide range of sports betting market participation, specifically for minority and women-owned businesses with little prior experience in the industry.
This extra layer of regulators has created another level of bureaucratic hurdles even for companies already well versed in regulated gambling. Would-be Maryland sports betting stakeholders continue to miss out on football season, even as neighboring Virginia, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania and West Virginia all offer statewide mobile betting.
Hogan has pushed regulators to finalize Maryland’s sports betting launch, advocating last week in a tweet for a sports betting launch this football season. Still, the governor has limited direct authority over the committees’ day-to-day moves. It remains to be seen when they’ll take further action.
In the meantime, Maryland casino sportsbooks are prepared to take bets as soon as possible. Multiple casino operators have already prepared “sports lounges” that are sportsbooks, minus the ability to take bets.
Multiple gaming establishments have also begun hiring employees; most just need to earn a license before taking bets.
The three aforementioned casinos as well as 14 other gaming and sports entities were granted a specific subset of retail licenses under the 2021 law. The other prospective licensees in this category are:
- Ocean Downs Casino; Rocky Gap Casino; Hollywood Casino Perryville
- Three major professional sports venues: FedEx Field (Washington Football Team); M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens); Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles)
- The operator of Pimlico and Laurel Park horse tracks (Stronach Group)
- The rest are set aside for off-track betting facilities as well as the state fairgrounds
The gaming commission hasn’t approved any of these 14 entities, meaning they will almost assuredly open their respective retail sportsbooks sometime after the three initial casinos. Like the three casinos, each must be signed off by both the gaming commission and the SWARC, plus pass all further background checks, testing checks and all other licensing requirements.
The SWARC will also award up to 60 statewide mobile licenses, which are available for a wide range of Maryland businesses and organizations. By law, the SWARC must consider minority and women ownership and participation in the company, among a host of other criteria.
Each of the 17 specified retail licensees are expected to earn an online license, though none are guaranteed to do so. These larger gaming entities and sportsbook partners with established gaming ties, including BetMGM, Caesars and FanDuel, are expected to take up the lion’s share of sports betting handle.
Additionally, the SWARC can grant up to 30 additional retail licenses separate any other licensing process. These too are designed to assure small, women and minority-owned business participation in Maryland sports betting.