For years, Maryland casinos viewed America’s largest sporting event as tantalizingly out of reach.
With sports betting illegal in the state, the Super Bowl was a fumbled football they couldn’t get their hands on. It was a super tease.
This year is different. With the state’s approval in December, five Maryland casinos began offering sports wagers from an exhaustive, state-approved catalog containing everything from Olympic ski jumping and badminton to hot-dog eating contests, chess and, of course, football.
The approval came just in time for the NFL playoffs and Sunday’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles, an event that attracts billions of dollars in wagers each year to domestic sportsbooks and offshore sites. Las Vegas was long the Super Bowl betting hub before a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a congressional ban that restricted sports wagering to Nevada and a few other states.
“Vegas had a couple of days of the year that they kind of owned as a result of sports betting — the Super Bowl, March Madness, big fights,” said Rob Norton, president of Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland. “That was the only place you could make wagers like that.”
This year, the Anne Arundel County casino, the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and other state casinos are loading up on Super Bowl promotions.
Live! — whose sportsbook is operated by FanDuel — is hauling sports betting kiosks into its three-story concert hall for a VIP event on the big day. Horseshoe is opening a brewpub this week — just in time for the game — adjacent to its sports betting counter and row of kiosks.
Among those making Super Bowl bets last week at Horseshoe ($20 on the Los Angeles Rams to beat the Cincinnati Bengals) was former Orioles outfielder Al Bumbry, who was at the casino doing a promotion.
Bumbry gazed at the electronic board posting odds for the 2022 Super Bowl, as well as for hockey, college basketball, UFC fight night, and the 2022 World Series.
The Los Angeles Dodgers were the 6-1 favorite to win the series. The Orioles were 250-1, meaning a $10 bet would win $2,500.
“Yeah, OK,” Bumbry said, smiling. “That’s a long shot, right? If I were to bet, I’d bet that.”
The menu of Super Bowl bets available at Horseshoe includes wagers on the exact amount of points scored by either team, the distance of the first successful field goal, and the winner of the pregame coin toss.
Maryland regulators allow wide latitude on the types of wagers that casinos may offer. The state Lottery and Gaming Control Agency maintains a voluminous “catalog of events and wagers” that can be updated as needed.
The agency says it doesn’t permit betting on high school sports, nor on exhibition matches in mixed martial arts and boxing because they are not sanctioned by a governing body and have no official result.
Last year, Major League Baseball expressed reservations to Maryland about bets on the first pitch of a game or inning, or the first delivery to a batter. The concern was that first-pitch wagers could be fixed more easily than other bets.
While first-pitch wagers don’t appear in the state catalog, an operator could seek agency approval to offer them. If there were objections from Major League Baseball or another organization, the matter would be decided by the state Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.
Sports betting also is offered by MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County and Ocean Downs in Berlin on the Eastern Shore. The state’s sixth casino, Rocky Gap in Western Maryland, doesn’t offer sports wagering.
It’s uncertain when the state will approve licenses for mobile sports betting. Mobile betting tends to draw greater revenue than in-person betting because of its convenience.
The Ravens still were playing in the regular season when sports betting began at casinos. But Norton, the Live! casino president, said fans tend to bet with their heads, not their hearts.
“Very, very rarely is the home team actually the largest betting action for the weekend,” Norton said.
The majority of the bettors, he said, base wagers on outcomes they believe have the best “chance of success.”
As of last week, Horseshoe general manager Randy Conroy said Super Bowl wagers seemed “pretty even” between the Rams and Bengals.
“So, it looks like the bookmakers did a great job of setting the lines,” he said.
The Rams were favored by 4.5 points.
In 2020, Maryland voters approved a ballot measure allowing the state to join the neighboring jurisdictions of Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the District of Columbia in allowing sports wagering, which has proliferated as the nation’s attitudes toward gambling have relaxed. The Maryland General Assembly established a framework, and state regulators then began considering license applications.
Sports betting topped $16 million in its first month at Maryland’s casinos, and more than $13 million was paid to winning players, the gambling agency said. The state collected 15% of the remainder — more than $460,000 — with the money largely dedicated to public education programs.
States with longer gambling histories and more casinos far eclipse Maryland in sports betting. Nevada and New Jersey have each had months where they handled more than $1 billion in sports wagers.