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Baltimore-area casinos launch in-person sports betting

Baltimore-area casinos opened their sportsbooks to the public Friday, part of the launch of long-awaited in-person sports betting in Maryland.

Before a buzzing crowd at Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino that included casino employees and actors dressed as Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Brandon Scott along with former Ravens Torrey Smith and Adalius Thomas and former Dunbar and NBA player Muggsy Bogues cut the ribbon for the 15,000-square-foot sports betting room in the South Baltimore casino.

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“Everybody’s fired up here,” said Hogan, who was in the midst of a tour of new sportsbooks across the state that already took him to MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County on Thursday and Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland in Hanover earlier Friday.

“Seems like everybody’s been hitting the casino, maybe drinking early,” Hogan quipped during the 1 p.m. event in Baltimore.

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Sean Tyler, of Hanover, places bets at one of self-service terminals in Sports & Social Maryland on the first day of public sports betting at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland.
Sean Tyler, of Hanover, places bets at one of self-service terminals in Sports & Social Maryland on the first day of public sports betting at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

Scott highlighted how the revenue from the sportsbook will help fund city schools. When Maryland’s sports gambling industry is fully operational, it’s expected to generate about $100 million in revenue annually. The state will levy a 15% tax on the money largely dedicated to public education.

“This is what this is about, bringing more tax revenues to spend on our collective vision for a better and safer Baltimore,” Scott said.

Managers at Horseshoe, where revenues have not reached projections made by state consultants before its 2014 opening, hope sports betting will allow the casino to further capitalize on its proximity to fans at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In 2018, the casino announced a marketing deal with the Ravens allowing it to use team trademarks and logos.

The hometown team was a favorite in the first sports bets placed Friday at the casino by Scott and others. The mayor, who celebrated his first year in office this week, picked Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to be named Most Valuable Player and the Ravens to win the Super Bowl. Scott’s announcement that he would bet on the beleaguered Orioles to reach a .500 record next season drew laughter from the crowd.

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Smith, the former Ravens wide receiver who was among the guests on hand for the ribbon cutting, pulled several hundred dollars in cash from his pockets to make his first bets. Among those picks was a Ravens win against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

“I’m not worried about the spread,” he said. “The boys are gonna take care of business.”

Hogan, who has been making wagers at each sportsbook he visits, said he placed $50 on University of Maryland to beat Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Ellis Hartridge shows betting tickets from one of the self-service terminals in Sports & Social Maryland at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland as it launches sports betting on Friday. Hartridge has slips for NFL, college basketball, NBA and NHL. He says “I starting watching a lot of sports because of betting.”
Ellis Hartridge shows betting tickets from one of the self-service terminals in Sports & Social Maryland at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland as it launches sports betting on Friday. Hartridge has slips for NFL, college basketball, NBA and NHL. He says “I starting watching a lot of sports because of betting.” (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

Visitors to the sportsbook have a vast menu of options for how to wager their money. Gamblers can make straight bets on the outcomes of games; make over/under picks in which traders set a likely combined score and betters wager on whether the actual score will be higher or lower; make moneyline bets on the ultimate winners of contests without considering the score; or try parlays, a series of bets placed at once that only pay out if all are winners.

Numerous propositions — prop bets in gambling lingo — are also available, such as how many interceptions will be made during a particular game, who will score first or whether a safety will happen. The more obscure the pick the higher the odds and the greater the potential return, explained Randy Conroy, Horseshoe’s senior vice president and general manager.

Next in line behind the politicians and ex-athletes to make their first sports wagers in the casino were dozens of locals anxious to see sports betting available in their own backyard. William Sullivan, a Belair-Edison resident said he was determined to be among the first in line to place bets. Until now, Sullivan said he has been making three trips per week to Delaware and a casino in York, Pennsylvania, to place sports wagers.

Having access to a local sportsbook means Sullivan can now spend weekends at the casino making bets on games as he watches them. He scoffed at the hometown fans picking local teams to win Friday.

“I don’t have favorites,” Sullivan said. “I picked teams that I think are going to win because I like money.”

The sportsbook’s opening day drew numerous residents from the greater Baltimore area including Kevin Klimko of Parkville. Klimko, 53, said he generally “doesn’t come to the city for anything,” but now expects to visit the casino once a week. On Friday, Klimko made bets on several NFL games and picked the Ravens to win this weekend — against his better judgment.

“They’re not good,” he said, laughing.

The expansion of gambling to encompass sports betting came following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a congressional ban that had restricted sports wagering to Nevada and a few other states with a history of allowing such bets. Maryland voters approved a ballot question to allow sports betting in 2020, which was followed by a law passed earlier this year setting the parameters of how the industry will operate.

Maryland lawmakers designated 17 locations for in-person sports betting. The state eventually will offer dozens more licenses for in-person betting and online betting.

In-person betting is expected to be just a small portion of the overall sports gambling industry in Maryland. In states that offer both in-person and online or app-based sports gambling, the in-person portion of the industry has been 5% to 15%.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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