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Maryland sports betting could be coming, but will the state take the right approach? | COMMENTARY

Patrons at Harrington Casino & Raceway in Delaware wait to place bets on sporting events on the first day sports wagering was legal. Maryland voters must decide if sports betting should be allowed in the state but the earliest a referendum could be on the ballot is 2020.
Patrons at Harrington Casino & Raceway in Delaware wait to place bets on sporting events on the first day sports wagering was legal. Maryland voters must decide if sports betting should be allowed in the state but the earliest a referendum could be on the ballot is 2020.(Jimmy DeButts / Capital Gazette file)

At long last, Maryland lawmakers are considering authorizing sports betting with proposed measures that will put sports betting expansion to a vote of the people on the November ballot.

For Maryland residents that have watched most of the Mid-Atlantic states adopt sports betting, the wait has seemed like an eternity. Maryland legislators are correct that time is of the essence — sports fans would love to bet on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s touchdown totals for next season. Sports betting would even add some excitement to an otherwise bleak Orioles season.

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Every week that lawmakers wait to legalize sports betting means more money flowing out of state to Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey. But even more important than rushing this out is the need for Maryland to get it right the first time and come up with a framework that will actually work for Maryland consumers and the state.

First and foremost, Maryland should not underestimate the tremendous market for sports betting — in states that are doing it correctly it is exceeding even the most optimistic projections. New Jersey handled over $4.5 billion in sports bets and raised over $36 million in taxes in 2019. A big part of New Jersey’s success has been creating a framework that allows the online sports betting market to grow. New Jersey has 13 racetracks and casinos, and allows up to three mobile sportsbook brands per casino for a total of 39 different operators. Each sports wagering licensee may provide no more than three individually branded websites.

That may seem like a lot, until you consider that almost all of of these licenses have already been claimed, despite the fact that sports betting has only been legal in that state for less than two years. New Jersey’s sports betting market more than doubled in handle, or the amount wagered, from 2018 to 2019, and the sky is the limit for 2020. There is no doubt that all of the licenses will be spoken for before the end of 2020.

Maryland must take note of this — one or two online sportsbooks per casino or racetrack will simply not be sufficient to handle the huge appetite for sports betting. Making more licenses available means more competition, more room for growth and better options for consumers. More online gaming competition also means more money for the state in the form of licensing fees and taxes on gaming revenue.

Secondly, Maryland must allow a full range of betting options, including college athletics. Universities in some states have been opposed to allowing betting on college sports, claiming that it will create opportunities for student-athlete corruption. But the fact is that Americans already bet billions of dollars on college sports each year through unregulated offshore websites. During March Madness alone, over a million Marylanders will place bets or enter office pools.

If they aren’t allowed to do it legally, odds are they will find an offshore sportsbook that will be glad to take their money. Banning regulated sportsbooks from taking these bets won’t do anything to stop offshore websites from taking bets on college games, it will only undermine the success of regulated sportsbooks that play by the rules and compromise the ability of regulators and school administrators to truly root out the problematic activity that takes place in the black market.

Match fixing, when somebody pays an athlete to intentionally cause a certain outcome during a contest or event, rarely happens in well-regulated markets, which is why the goal should be to move as many bets, especially collegiate bets, from offshore websites to Maryland sportsbooks.

Maryland is potentially opening up the state constitution, something that doesn’t happen every day. Lawmakers should take this opportunity to look toward the future, which means authorizing sports betting in a way that allows the market to grow, adapt and right-size itself without undue limitations on the types of bets they can offer or the number of online providers that can do business in the state.

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Maryland may not be the first state to authorize sports betting, but they can more than make up for it by learning from the success of states that have embraced online products, regulated betting on college sports and encouraged competition.

Charles Gillespie (charles.gillespie@kaxmedia.com) is chief executive of Gambling.com Group.

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