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Bill to let Maryland voters decide on legal sports betting passes in legislature’s final hours

A stripped-down version of a bill to let Maryland voters decide whether to legalize sports betting was approved Wednesday in the final hours of the General Assembly’s abbreviated session.

Del. Nick Mosby of Baltimore maneuvered for a bill that does not specify which companies would be able to apply for a license. Instead, if voters approve sports betting during the November election, state lawmakers would then determine who would be eligible to offer betting.

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That decision would be informed by a “disparity study” that would determine whether racial minorities or women face a disadvantage in participating in the betting industry. If that’s the case, lawmakers could include provisions in their plans that would give preference to underrepresented groups in the licensing process.

Mosby said Tuesday he was concerned that the version of the bill that was moving forward would have allowed sports betting licenses to go largely to rich, white men. The bill would have created licenses for casinos, thoroughbred racetracks and the Washington Redskins football stadium in Prince George’s County. The Ravens were said to be interested in a license as well, though team officials would not comment.

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Each licensee would be able to offer in-person sports betting as well as an affiliated online or app-based service.

“It just compounded the concentration of wealth by limiting competition,” said Mosby, a Democrat. “They were literally going to give licenses to individuals who are already seated around the table.”

The House of Delegates voted 129-3 late Tuesday without debate to approve the amended sports betting proposal, as lawmakers worked through scores of bills ahead of a self-imposed deadline to adjourn their session Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the state Senate unanimously agreed to the House changes to the bill, sending the legislation to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for his consideration.

Del. Michele Guyton, a Baltimore County Democrat, said she was worried the Maryland State Fair in Timonium would get shut out of the opportunity for a betting license, but she offered support for Mosby’s changes.

The nonprofit state fair is home to an aging track and other facilities that need updates, and the fair’s leaders had hoped getting a sports betting license would help raise money for renovations.

Maryland has used a disparity study once before to consider licensing companies in an emerging industry.

When medical cannabis was first legalized, the majority of licenses went to non-minority companies. After a disparity study confirmed that minorities were at a disadvantage in applying for licenses, the Assembly in 2018 created a second round of licenses that gave extra points in the application process to minority-owned businesses.

Those licenses have not been awarded, amid concerns about other problems in the application process.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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