Why Did Maryland Online Sports Betting Take So Long to Launch?
Scott Taestch/Getty. Pictured: Shemar Bridges.
After a highly-anticipated wait, Maryland online sports betting is live after launching on Wednesday.
To date, the dubious distinction of the longest delay for an online sports betting launch belongs to Maryland. It took two years from the time Maryland voters approved the sports betting bill to mobile betting finally going live.
Here’s a short timeline on sports betting approval in Maryland:
- Marylanders approved sports betting in November 2020.
- Retail sports betting launched on Dec. 9, 2021, at five casino locations.
- Online wagering began on Nov. 23, 2022.
So what took Maryland so long to launch online sports betting?
What Happened After Sports Betting Was Approved by Voters in 2020?
Usually, when voters vote to approve sports betting in a state, the House and elected Governor approve and sign a bill within a couple of months.
In Maryland’s case, it took the House four months (April 2021) to approve and Gov. Hogan five months (May 2021) to sign House Bill 940.
The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission then outsourced consultants to create an equitable plan for smaller businesses. Typically, states don’t hire consultants to help them frame regulations for sports betting.
The ballot referendum approved by Maryland voters in November 2020 required the Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) to study market-inclusion opportunities for minority- and female-owned businesses.
“Our law was far more comprehensive than another other jurisdiction’s, so it’s really not a fair comparison,” Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin told The Action Network in April. “If we had the same rules as any other state, we most likely would have been up and running by now.”
Maryland officials wanted to create their very own legal framework, which naturally took longer to form. The state wanted to give priority to minority and women-owned businesses, but it failed to provide ample resources to help these businesses hit the ground running.
Implementing a business incubator that trains smaller businesses in management and finance could’ve helped streamline this process. No such program was set in place, preventing minority and woman-owned businesses to thrive. Consequently, lawmakers removed the equity and minority requirements set in place for an equitable sports betting market in July 2021.
Later in the year, Maryland Lottery chose five retail sports betting locations on Nov. 18, 2021: Hollywood Casino, Horseshoe Casino, MGM National Harbor, Live! Casino & Hotel and Ocean Downs Casino. Retail sports betting officially went live in Maryland one month later.
Frustrations Mount as Progress Is Slow in 2022
It took between September 2021 and August 2022 for SWARC to receive the disparity study from the state Attorney General’s Office. It was submitted to SWARC on Aug. 19. During this time, SWARC sent out surveys to potential sports betting operators to uncover how they would incorporate equity in their business.
After the study was reviewed, it stated “SWARC is not able to apply any race- and/or gender-conscious criteria in its evaluation of applicants.”
The study was reviewed in detail and applicants were considered if their business is owned by at least 5% “by individuals with PNW (personal net worth) no more than $1.847 million.”
In late August, SWARC set up a public commenting period until Sept. 27. SWARC had the responsibility to accept and consider input about the licensing process by residents. Sports betting operators who requested entry were asked to create a legitimate diversity plan that SWARC needed to approve. This was submitted on Sept. 2. SWARC held a meeting on Oct. 19 to discuss and implement any changes from public comments until sports betting operators were announced on Oct. 31.
Throughout this process, the public criticized the delayed response to launching sports betting in the state, and it led to Hogan issuing a public letter in June to regulators urging swift action so online sportsbooks could go live before the start of the 2022 NFL season.
“I realize that this ongoing delay is the byproduct of an overly complex piece of legislation that was skewed to appease special interest groups and organizations,” Hogan said. “The rest of the holdup lies with bureaucratic hurdles and legal obstacles placed by the Office of the Attorney General.”
The Sports Betting Breakthrough
After an extended period of silence, Maryland regulators provided a long-awaited update the day after Hogan’s letter, though it wasn’t as thorough as some had hoped.
“I understand that many are frustrated that the process relating to the issuance of Maryland mobile sports wagering licenses has been time-consuming,” SWARC Chairman Thomas Brandt said. “I also want everyone to know that SWARC and its support team have been operating as diligently and deliberately as we can under the Maryland sports wagering law that we’re tasked to administer.”
A couple of months later, in September, Maryland regulators finally gave their most definitive update of the year when SWARC opted to let online sportsbooks begin taking bets once they’re licensed, as opposed to making them wait to launch together.
“We all know the public has been clamoring for sports betting. We get comments on why it hasn’t started every day,” Jim Nielsen, Deputy Director & Chief Operating Officer of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, said.
Then, in October, SWARC affirmed online sports betting would start between Nov. 21 and Dec. 5. The result played out as they said as online sports betting in Maryland finally launched on Wednesday.
Seven sportsbooks across the state opened their virtual doors at 9 a.m. EST on Wednesday. The seven sportsbooks live for Maryland’s online sports betting launch are:
According to the SWARC, 21 mobile license applications were submitted during the first application window, meaning there are an additional 11 applications for the group to consider. SWARC has not yet revealed the names of these operators, but they could award more licenses when the group meets again on Dec. 14.
Looking Ahead at Online Sports Betting in Maryland
Maryland has the potential to be one of the top sports betting markets in North America. Launch revenue is expected to get a boost from the 2022 World Cup and the NFL’s Thanksgiving games.
Maryland’s upside is a population of almost 6.3 million and 700,000 people in D.C. can easily travel into MD’s state lines to place their online bets with more legal sportsbooks available. Maryland and D.C. residents have the top-10 highest incomes in the U.S. Maryland also possesses the fourth-highest median income in the U.S., making it a premier sports betting destination for sportsbooks.
For more information about the Maryland sports betting launch, check out our extensive list of resources: