Maryland General Assembly leaders open to special session on sports betting, but Gov. Hogan is not

Don’t go placing any bets that Maryland lawmakers will act soon to legalize sports wagering.

A day after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to offer sports betting, the Maryland General Assembly’s leaders said Tuesday they are willing to consider convening a special session about whether to allow the wagering at state casinos.

But they deferred to Gov. Larry Hogan, who a spokeswoman said “has no plans” to call lawmakers to Annapolis.

The Republican governor has supported the rights of states to decide whether to expand gambling to include sports betting and a spokeswoman said he expects the question to come up in the legislature’s 2019 session, potentially sending it to voters to decide in 2020.

Nearby states are expected to allow sports gambling much more quickly, so the state’s two top Democrats — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch — said they would consider moving sooner to keep pace.

“We’re open to it,” Busch said Tuesday of a special session. “The governor’s got to call it.”

The Supreme Court justices voted 6-3 Monday to strike down a federal law preventing New Jersey, which filed the case, and most other states from offering sports betting at race tracks and casinos.

In anticipation of that decision, several states — including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — adopted legislation that would permit sports gambling if the Supreme Court overruled the federal ban. Delaware already allows limited sports wagering and can move quickly to expand it.

At least a dozen other states have proposals or at least have begun discussing it.

In Maryland, it would take an amendment to the state constitution to expand gambling laws to include sports betting. Unless lawmakers reconvene to vote on putting the question on the 2018 ballot, the earliest it could be presented to Maryland voters would be November 2020.

The General Assembly meets to pass laws and approve the governor’s budget during an annual legislative session that runs from January to April. Governors can call for short special sessions to address unfinished business.

Legislation to approve sports betting contingent on the Supreme Court decision failed in the latest session over a disagreement about whether to allow it at the state’s horse racing tracks.

Lawmakers could force Hogan to call a special session — if a majority of both chambers sign a petition calling for it. But Busch said he doesn’t expect that to happen — at least, not until after the primary elections June 26.

“I don’t think there’s an outcry from the general public,” he said. “I don’t think it would be that hard, but if they did it, it would be after the primaries.”

Miller also said he would be amenable to discussing a possible special session, though aides said it would require hashing out technical details of any gambling expansion before bringing lawmakers back to Annapolis.

A Hogan spokeswoman, Amelia Chasse, said the governor has no plans to call a special session to consider putting a referendum on the ballot.

“There was legislation proposed this year to do that, and it did not pass,” she said. “We don’t anticipate a special session.”

Chasse said Hogan wrote a letter in support of the New Jersey case and generally supports states’ rights to legalize sports betting.

By a 124-14 vote in March, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a constitutional amendment sending legalization of sports betting to voters, but neither it nor companion legislation came up for a vote in the state Senate.

Nonpartisan legislative staff who analyzed that proposal said that sports betting makes up 2 percent of gaming revenue in Nevada, the only state where it’s currently legal, and estimated it could add anywhere between $13.7 million and $182.1 million to Maryland coffers.

Proceeds from slot machine gambling in Maryland totaled just shy of $1 billion in 2017, while table games grossed $614.7 million.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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