The D.C. Council on Tuesday approved legal sports betting, providing another nearby destination where Marylanders will soon have the chance to wager bets on professional sports and games.
The decision came after a May Supreme Court ruling that struck down a federal law banning some states from offering wagering on sports. The court’s decision allowed states to decide for themselves whether to permit sports betting, which clears the way for an anticipated boom in the industry — an outcome sought by Maryland’s largest casinos.
Here’s what you need to know about the decisions and what they means for Marylanders.
What did the D.C. Council do?
The council voted 11-2 to legalize sports betting in the nation’s capital. The decision followed a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that allowed states to authorize wagering on games. At the request of New Jersey, the court struck down a 1992 federal law banning states from the business of sports betting.
But weren’t people already betting on sports?
Yes, there is an underground market in which people bet online through offshore sites. The American Gaming Association says it is a multibillion-dollar industry that has been unregulated and untaxed. The Super Bowl and March Madness tend to attract huge interest from American customers. Of course, bets on horse racing are already legal in Maryland.
When will I be able to bet on sports in Maryland?
Changes to Maryland gambling laws require a state constitutional amendment with ratification by voters in a general election. The General Assembly didn’t approve legislation during its most recent session to put the measure on the November ballot. Barring a special session – which would be unusual, particularly in an election year – the earliest Maryland voters might consider such an amendment is November 2020.
Where would I bet in Maryland?
Maryland’s largest casinos want a piece of the action. If the state allowed, the casinos could open “sports book areas” akin to those in Las Vegas. The owners of Live Casino & Hotel at Arundel Mills, Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and MGM National Harbor in Prince George's County have all expressed interest.
MGM in particular said it wants to work with the state. "If Maryland doesn’t quickly address this issue, surrounding states will, and Maryland will lose an important competitive edge," the owners of MGM said.
It’s uncertain if sports bets could be made at other sites. Some states are looking at race tracks as venues to bet on a variety of sports. In Maryland, it would depend on how the legislation is written.
What could I bet on?
To enhance interest, casinos offer much more than wagers on whether a team wins a game. There are bets on quarter and halftime scores, “futures” bets on league champions and Super Bowl “prop” bets on such things as who will score the first touchdown.
The gambling industry is also embracing real-time betting during games.
"There's going to be a time where I'll be watching a [Washington] Nats game and you'll be watching an Orioles game," said Geoff Freeman of the American Gaming Association. “There's going to be a runner on first. You're going to be betting on whether the next pitch is a ball or strike and you're going to put a side bet on a double play."
Isn’t sports betting already legal in some states?
Nevada and a few other states received exemptions from the 1992 act because they already offered some form of sports betting.
Delaware is the only state east of the Mississippi that allows betting on NFL games. But – until now – it only permitted "parlays," which means gamblers must wager on the outcomes of at least three games per betting card and win them all.
What do state legislative leaders think?
Gov. Larry Hogan "has previously expressed support for the rights of states to make this determination," said spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver Churchill.
"We anticipate this issue will be debated in the next legislative session” beginning next January.
Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch said in an interview the House of Delegates would push for sports betting to pass in the upcoming session to help bolster school funding. Meanwhile, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said in a separate interview sports betting and other constitutional amendments would have to wait a session to pass the Senate.
Are there downsides to expanding sports betting?
Problem-gambling organizations say increased availability means increased temptation for people with gambling issues. Leagues have also expressed concerns about "point shaving," in which players try to manipulate the betting outcome.
Could I bet in surrounding states?
Yes, Marylanders are permitted to bet in other states.Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and New Jersey are among the seven states outside Nevada that have approved sports betting. Those surrounding states have already set up their sports betting infrastructure, and gamblers can place bets there now. D.C. still needs to establish such infrastructure.
D.C. New York and Arkansas are also poised to legalize sports betting next year.
Will sports leagues seek a share of the betting profits?
Some of the leagues have discussed receiving “fees” with states. Ted Leonsis – whose Monumental Sports & Entertainment owns the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals and Baltimore Brigade – said leagues must be forward-thinking.
“I don’t claim to know all of those answers today, but what I do know is that this is a new frontier for professional sports, and teams who don’t seize on this opportunity will be left behind,” Leonsis said.