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Sports gambling gets closer to approval in Maryland

Maryland could have up to 22 in-person locations for sports gambling and 15 options for online and mobile betting under a proposal moving forward in the General Assembly.

A House of Delegates committee gave the green light Friday afternoon to a plan to expand the state’s gambling industry to include fantasy games and betting on sports.

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The state could make in the neighborhood of $20 million per year by taxing a portion of the proceeds from sports gambling companies, making a modest contribution to funding for public education. But the stakes are higher for companies that want a piece of the new industry, particularly the mobile betting platforms that dominate the industry in other states.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, would automatically grant licenses for in-person sports betting at the state’s six casinos, three major professional sports stadiums, thoroughbred horse racing tracks, the state fairgrounds in Timonium and a “riverboat” off-track betting facility on the Potomac River.

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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.

Companies could apply for in-person betting licenses, mobile licenses or both. Winning one type of license does not guarantee winning another type of license.

The number of licenses is an increase from the original version of the bill, which called for in-person licenses at the six casinos, five more in-person licenses, plus up to 10 licenses for online betting. During a public hearing on the bill, lawmakers heard from many in the industry who requested more licenses, both in-person and online.

Some companies had pressed lawmakers to tie in-person licenses with mobile licenses, which was not included in the bill.

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Del. Jason Buckel said not guaranteeing mobile licenses to the companies that get in-person licenses gave him some “heartburn.” Smaller, in-person locations might not make much money off sports betting without also having a mobile license, Buckel and others have said.

“The financial viability really flows from the mobile license,” said Buckel, a Western Maryland Republican.

Friday’s committee approval puts the bill on track to be debated by the full House next week. The Senate, meanwhile, has held work group meetings on the issue of sports betting, but no bill has been introduced in that chamber.

A key goal of lawmakers has been to ensure that minority- and women-owned businesses have a chance at securing licenses and profiting from this gambling expansion. A commission that will be set up to award licenses will have the ability to put provisions in place to boost minority participation.

This is legally allowed because research has shown there is a disadvantage for minorities and women in the gambling industry.

Companies also will be required to report on the women and minorities in their ownership group and among their employees.

Del. Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said lawmakers can be confident that the bill includes opportunities for minorities.

“Nowhere in the Union has a sports bill been put together like we are doing here in the state of Maryland,” Barnes, a Prince George’s County Democrat, told committee members Friday.

Barnes said lawmakers have learned from the challenges of creating a medical cannabis industry — when the first round of licenses shut out minority companies, and litigation and legislation followed — to do a better job with sports gambling.

“This is something I feel extremely proud about,” he said.

House debate on the bill could begin on Tuesday, when the full body is next in session.

Lawmakers are figuring out how to set up the new sports betting industry, following a November ballot measure in which voters approved legalized sports betting with 67% support.

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