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Maryland House OKs plan for legal sports betting; measure moves to Senate

The Maryland House of Delegates approved a plan Thursday for legal betting on sports, sending the measure to the state Senate for consideration.

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Licenses for on-site betting would be set aside for existing locations, including the state’s six casinos, thoroughbred horse racing tracks in Laurel and Baltimore, the state fairgrounds in Timonium, the Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens and Washington Football Team stadiums, and a “riverboat” off-track betting facility on the Potomac River.

Another 10 licenses for in-person betting would be open to applicants, and 15 licenses for online betting through websites and apps would be up for grabs.

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The state would receive 15% of the gambling proceeds in the form of a tax.

The money that comes in — expected to be in the neighborhood of $20 million a year — would go largely to public education.

The House’s 130-9 vote came after little discussion and debate.

Some lawmakers have raised concerns that they’d like to see more licenses available, including for existing off-track betting locations. Del. Robin Grammer, a Baltimore County Republican, said he voted against the bill because he thought the licensing program was too limited.

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“I think we should legalize it, but I feel like under this bill, we are establishing a monopoly here,” he said.

Companies that hope to participate in the sports gambling industry in Maryland also had asked for more licenses.

The version passed by the House represents an increase in the number of licenses from the original bill sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, which called for in-person betting at casinos and racetracks, plus at up to five other locations, as well as up to 10 licenses for online betting.

The bill would enable a sports betting licensing commission to include provisions in the process to ensure that minority- and women-owned businesses — which have been shown to be disadvantaged in the gambling industry — have the opportunity to win licenses.

The focus of the debate now shifts to the state Senate, where a work group has held a couple of meetings to discuss issues of sports gambling, but no bill has been introduced.

If the Senate changes the House bill, the differences would have to be worked out before sending it to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for his consideration.

Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved the legalization of sports betting on a ballot question last fall. The ballot measure left the details of setting up the sports gambling industry to lawmakers.

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