Maryland Sports Betting Bill Nears House Passage; When It Could Be Legalized

Maryland Sports Betting Bill Nears House Passage; When It Could Be Legalized article feature image
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Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images. Pictured: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Maryland lawmakers could advance sports betting legislation as early as this week, clearing a legalization path for as early as next month.

The Maryland House of Delegates approved an amended sports betting bill without opposition Tuesday. A final House vote could come as early as Wednesday, positioning the bill to clear the full House and go on to the Senate.

If passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law, eligible Maryland bettors would be able to wager from anywhere within state lines. Maryland casinos, horse tracks, professional sports stadiums and certain small businesses would have retail and potentially online license eligibility.

Bill Highlights

The House Ways and Means committee expanded the eligible licensees to 37 Friday after industry stakeholders advocated for increased options in prior testimony. That includes as many as 15 statewide mobile licenses, which are projected to account for the vast majority of Maryland betting handle.

The bill automatically grants 12 retail betting licenses between:

  • One each to the state’s six casinos
  • Stronach Group, owner of Laurel Park Racecourse and Pimlico Race Course pari-mutuel horse tracks
  • The Maryland State Fairgrounds
  • An off-track betting facility on the Potomac River

The state’s three major professional sports venues are also eligible, which includes:

  • FedEx Field in Landover (home of the NFL’s Washington Football Team)
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore (MLB’s Baltimore Orioles)
  • M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore (NFL’s Baltimore Ravens)

Maryland could be just the third jurisdiction to approve in-stadium sportsbooks after Washington D.C. and Illinois. Arizona and New York are also considering in-stadium sportsbook legislation.

Other business entities could apply for one of 10 additional retail licenses. All of the aforementioned groups are eligible to apply for one of the 15 online licenses.

Maryland’s larger gaming entities will likely have the best shot for an online license. Several sportsbooks have existing relationships with at least one of the casinos, including BetMGM, William Hill, FanDuel and Barstool Sportsbook. These and other top operators such as DraftKings, PointsBet and FOX Bet will also likely seek online sports betting partnership deals.

Background

The House bill legislates Maryland sports betting after voters overwhelmingly approved wagering during the 2020 elections. Lawmakers had introduced a more detailed bill ahead of last November’s vote but shelved it after the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed last year’s session.

Instead, sports betting backers articulated limited sports betting parameters –  including the nation’s first minority participation requirement. The 2020 framework bill requires sports betting access for women and minority-owned businesses, which 2021 bill proponents believe will be fulfilled by the 10 additional retail sportsbook licenses set aside from existing gaming entities.

If passed, Maryland regulators would promulgate further rules such as eligible bet types. A special committee would help award licenses that assure women and minority participation.

Maryland is the last remaining Mid-Atlantic state without a legal sportsbook. Neighboring West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania all have statewide mobile betting, and the latter two are allowed at least a dozen sportsbooks apiece under their respective state laws. Washington D.C. has two mobile sportsbooks, one run by William Hill and the other by the city lottery, and Delaware has three retail books.

Next Steps

The House easily advanced the Ways and Mean committee’s amendments Tuesday, clearing the way for a vote as early as Wednesday. Democratic House Speaker Adrienne Jones sponsors the sports betting bill, all but assuring it comes to a final floor vote in the near future.

Once through the House, the bill will have to go through the committee process again in the Senate. The upper chamber has not introduced a competing proposal, meaning sports betting hopes depend on the House bill.

The Senate will likely tweak the bill in the coming weeks but it appears to be on a strong footing for a relatively quick passage. Party leaders in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, including Jones, as well as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan all support the bill. Voters’ two-to-one support for the 2020 ballot question further underscores the political imperative for legal Maryland sports betting.

Maryland’s 2021 legislative session ends next month. The sports betting proposal could land on Hogan’s desk shortly thereafter if identical versions of the bill pass both the House and Senate. The bill technically goes into effect June 1, but all individual retail and online sportsbook operators would still need state regulatory approval before accepting wagers.

In a best-case scenario, Maryland sports betting could begin ahead of the 2021 football season. There are several logistical and legislative steps before that happens, but Maryland sports betting is well on its way to legalization, likely in the coming months.

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