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When Will Sports Betting Start in Maryland, Louisiana & South Dakota? Next Steps After Ballot Measures Pass

When Will Sports Betting Start in Maryland, Louisiana & South Dakota? Next Steps After Ballot Measures Pass article feature image

G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images. Pictured: The Maryland Terrapins mascot

Voters in three states overwhelmingly approved sports betting on their respective 2020 ballots. Now officials in all three will take up critical follow-up work that will determine the scope and scale of their new gaming option.

Elected officials in Maryland, Louisiana and South Dakota must now pass legislation that determines operator access, tax rates, online regulations and a host of other regulatory issues. Here’s are the next steps in each state:

Maryland Lawmakers Take Up Sports Betting Again

  • Timeline: Possibly 2021 football season
  • Online betting: Likely

As expected, Maryland voters approved sports betting. How they go about doing so will be up to lawmakers.

Elected officials will take up legislation that determines where and when sports betting can begin. Statewide online wagering is expected, as are retail books at the state’s six commercial casinos and likely horse tracks at Pimlico, Laurel Park and the state fairgrounds.

Industry stakeholders will be closely watching the number of online licenses, or “skins,” made available by lawmakers. Most are supporting multiple skins for each casino and horse track, which would allow more operators to enter the market and more betting options for the public, like in New Jersey.

Lawmakers (and possibly the gaming facilities themselves) may seek to cap the total number of operators, giving each operator a larger market share but possibly hurting the market’s viability overall.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely shuttered the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers had advanced a framework bill that answered many other tax and regulatory questions. This was scrapped in the waning moments of the 2020 session for a more streamlined bill that needed to pass in order to get the sports betting question on this year’s ballot.

Notably, the larger bill included specific provisions protecting and promoting minority stakes in sports betting business operations. Assuming these provisions are fleshed out in the 2021 bill, it could open the door for locally-based sportsbooks instead of just the major nationwide companies like DraftKings and FanDuel expected to partner with the existing land-based facilities.

This could mean local sportsbooks that resemble Handle 19 in neighboring Washington D.C.

“I don’t think people understand how difficult that can be,” said Stacie Stern, FanDuel’s Government Affairs Director, during an industry webinar Thursday. “There’s a lot of different ideas and competing interests, so trying to get everybody to the table to agree to the right framework is a heavy lift. But I think we can get there.”

FanDuel was among a group of gaming companies that helped contribute several million dollars to support the ballot measure. This financial investment, along with popular voter support, shows stakeholders are hopeful for a quick sports betting launch, possibly in time for the fall 2021 football season.

Louisiana Sports Betting Begins Down Complex Road

  • Timeline: Unlikely until at least 2022
  • Online betting: Unclear

Voters in 55 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes approved sports betting this year, encompassing roughly 95% of the state’s total population. The next steps likely won’t be as decisive.

Despite voters’ widespread support, gaming in any form remains controversial in the state legislature. In 2018, voters approved a daily fantasy sports legalization ballot measure by similar margins, but lawmakers didn’t approve the necessary follow-up taxation legislation until 2020 — and only as part of a special session called to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike Maryland, where elected officials largely support sports gambling and are simply working through the details, Louisiana will need to pass a bill over objections from elected officials that oppose all gaming to begin with.

Online sports betting, which makes up roughly 90% of betting handle in mature markets such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, is no sure bet in Louisiana. Though the 2020 ballot referendum would allow mobile wagering to be conducted in the 55 parishes where it was approved, there may not be the political appetite to allow it.

“Louisiana lawmakers were resistant to allow mobile betting in previous iterations of sports betting bills,” said John Pappas, Founder and CEO of Corridor Consulting, at Thursday’s webinar.  “That dynamic may have changed considerably, but even if they allow mobile betting, they may require in-person registration, so there’s a lot of hurdles to still overcome and education that needs to happen.”

The state’s roughly two-dozen casinos are all in parishes that approved the referendum and will almost assuredly be able to open retail sportsbooks within their facilities. However, some lawmakers may push to expand this to the state’s thousands of video poker terminals, which could anger the casinos and tank the whole bill. This scenario played out in 2019, and helped crush both daily fantasy and sports betting legislation.

These competing dynamic wills likely return with lawmakers when they begin the 2021 session in Baton Rouge. These divergent interests, and the legislature’s April scheduled start date, make sports betting difficult to envision beginning any time next year.

South Dakota Online Wagering Remains Undetermined

  • Timeline: Retail in 2021, online betting unclear
  • Online betting: Unclear

South Dakota will open its first retail sportsbooks after voters, surprisingly, backed legal wagering by a lopsided margin. Most questions beyond that remain unknown.

Each of the roughly two-dozen casinos in the historic gaming town of Deadwood will be able to open retail sportsbooks, likely as early as next year. Existing law will allow each of the dozen or so tribal casinos in the state to do the same.

It remains to be seen what other sports betting options will be permitted. In addition to key issues such as taxes, lawmakers will need to figure out to what extent sports betting will be allowed when they reconvene next year — including online wagering.

The state constitution only permits legal gaming in Deadwood and, by extension, the federally recognized tribal casinos. However, online sports betting backers may argue statewide mobile wagering is permitted as long as the physical servers are located in Deadwood.

Statewide mobile wagering would surely increase sports betting handle (and government tax dollars), particularly in a state as expansive and sparsely populated as South Dakota. But this could run into legal and political challenges, especially in what remains one of the nation’s more culturally and politically conservative states. Republican House Speaker Steven Haugaard publicly opposed the ballot measure and is among a GOP contingent against gaming in any form.

Retail sportsbooks are coming to South Dakota, but the fate of online wagering will be closely watched in 2021.

“It would make sense for a state like that to embrace a mobile platform. It would make sense to see how tribal operators could be engaged in the mix,” Pappas said. “I think there’s potential for the market, but it’s too early to tell which way they want to go.”

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