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Maryland voters would get a say on sports betting

In this file photo, NCAA basketball tournament games are displayed on a board at the Mirage hotel-casino Race & Sports Book in Las Vegas. Maryland is inching closer to legalizing sports betting.
In this file photo, NCAA basketball tournament games are displayed on a board at the Mirage hotel-casino Race & Sports Book in Las Vegas. Maryland is inching closer to legalizing sports betting. (Julie Jacobson / AP)

After years of fits and starts, an effort to legalize betting on sports is moving forward in Maryland’s legislature.

A bill being debated by the state Senate would let voters decide during the November election whether to allow betting on sports, from college basketball’s March Madness to NFL games on Sundays.

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If approved, sports betting would be allowed at the Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park and Maryland State Fair thoroughbred horse racing tracks; and the state’s six casinos. Betting also would be allowed at a Redskins football stadium in Prince George’s County, but only if it is rebuilt or significantly renovated.

Sports bettors also would be able to place bets online or through smartphone apps that would be affiliated with in-person sports betting locations.

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The sports betting license holders would keep 75% to 80% of the profits from sports betting. The rest would be turned over to the state and dedicated almost entirely to the Maryland Education Trust Fund, which pays for public schools.

Sen. Craig Zucker, the bill’s lead sponsor, said sports betting might bring the state about $20 million each year for schools, according to an estimate from the state’s nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.

“It gives us another opportunity to invest in Maryland’s future with capturing some of those revenues,” said Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Zucker said plenty of Marylanders already are betting on sports in other states where it’s legal or through offshore, online applications.

“There are Marylanders that are doing this in the dark market, so we want to bring them out to do it legally,” he said.

Since a 2018 Supreme Court ruling struck down a law that had limited sports betting to a handful of states, an increasing number of states have legalized the practice, including Maryland’s neighbors in Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, Zucker said.

“As Maryland has been debating this, more than 16 states have already started to do sports betting,” he said.

The Maryland Jockey Club, a subsidiary of The Stronach Group that owns the Pimlico and Laurel tracks, issued a statement in favor of being included in the legislation.

“Wagering on horse racing dates back to Colonial times, employs over 20,000 Marylanders and is directly affected by other wagering enterprises,” the statement read. “As such, we are pleased that the legislature recognizes that Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park need to be included in any future sports wagering options.”

In addition to the Maryland Jockey Club’s thoroughbred tracks, the bill also would allow sports betting at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, which has a ⅝-mile track that hosts a racing meet during the fair, as well as a year-round off-track betting operation.

The nonprofit board that owns and operates the fairgrounds needs money to upgrade its 1950s-era grandstand and other facilities, and sports betting could provide an infusion of cash.

Gerry Brewster, the fair’s board chairman, said he was “delighted” the Senate included the fairgrounds as it considers sports betting.

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“This is a one-time opportunity for the Maryland State Fairgrounds to have a long-term solution to meet the state fair’s capital needs going forward in perpetuity,” he said. “Once sports wagering passes, it’s not going to be undone any more than the lottery has been undone.”

Baltimore County’s state senators have endorsed the inclusion of the state fair in the sports betting bill. The fair will ask Baltimore County’s state delegates for their support on Friday.

The path for the tracks and casinos to apply for licenses is more straightforward than it is for Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

He’d be able to apply for a sports betting license only if he reaches an agreement with Prince George’s County to either rebuild the NFL team’s current stadium at FedEx Field in Landover or build a new stadium as part of a mixed-use development. The location would be limited to a 1.5-mile radius around FedEx Field. To keep the license, the Redskins would need to show progress on submitting applications, receiving zoning approvals and spending at least $500 million on construction.

The Redskins have said little publicly about sports betting and did not provide a response to questions about the bill on Wednesday.

Snyder has met privately with lawmakers to request sports betting at the Redskins stadium, as he determines whether to build a new stadium in the Washington metro area. The Washington Post reported that Snyder made a similar request of Virginia lawmakers.

The team’s lease at FedEx Field, which opened in 1997, expires in 2027.

The Redskins stadium is the only professional sports stadium included in the Senate’s sports betting bill. Zucker said that the Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles did not ask to be included in the bill.

The bill was approved Tuesday by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in a unanimous vote, and will head to the full Senate for debate at the end of the week. The bill would need to be approved by the full Senate and the House of Delegates in order for the sports gambling question to be sent to voters for their approval.

Even as a number of states have legalized sports betting in the past few years, support remains soft among Maryland voters, according to polling.

A poll from Goucher College last month found 47% support for online sports gambling and 45% support for in-person sports betting at locations such as race tracks, casinos and stadiums.

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