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Maryland sports betting panel leaves 5 casinos still waiting for approval on in-person gambling

Maryland gamblers still must wait before being able to place bets on sporting events, as a state commission has delayed making a decision on the first applicants for sports betting licenses.

Five casinos have cleared the first level of legal and technical review by state lottery officials and have applications pending before the Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission: Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, Hollywood Casino in Perryville, MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill and Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin.

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The application commission met Wednesday — mostly in a closed meeting with lawyers — to consider the applications. Ultimately, it voted in an open session to request more information from the casinos.

The application commission members, who are appointed by the governor, House of Delegates speaker and Senate president, did not discuss their decision during their meeting, which was held over video.

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“We heard a lot, we got our written legal advice,” noted Thomas M. Brandt Jr., a business executive who was appointed by the governor to chair the commission.

The application commission plans to meet next on Nov. 18.

Gov. Larry Hogan expressed frustration with the timeline and accused legislative leaders of trying to stall the process. The Republican governor, speaking Wednesday at a coronavirus news conference, noted that the executive branch’s lottery regulators gave initial approval to the five casinos “many weeks ago.”

“If, in fact, they don’t act immediately and approve those, and if the legislature has their way in violating the law, then it’s going to be at least a year or more before anyone gets the ability to do gambling in Maryland, sports betting, and potentially it could kill the entire deal,” Hogan said.

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Senate President Bill Ferguson responded in a statement noting that the application commission is an independent entity.

“I wholeheartedly trust in the ability of the independent commissioners — including the governor’s own appointed representatives — to consider all information and use their best judgment to issue licenses fairly,” said Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.

Maryland voters gave their blessing to the concept of legal betting on sports during the 2020 election, approving a ballot question by a 2-to-1 margin.

State lawmakers earlier this year hashed out the details of what the industry will look like, naming 17 potential locations for in-person betting, including the casinos, thoroughbred horse racing tracks and others. Dozens more licenses will be available for both in-person and online betting.

The application commission is tasked with setting up the application process for those licenses, including whether there should be provisions aimed at ensuring that minority- and women-owned businesses participate.

Regulators and proponents of sports gambling have expressed hope that the first in-person betting locations could be up and running by late fall or early winter, before the end of the professional football season. Some of the casinos have prepared sports-themed betting areas in anticipation of winning licenses.

The state will take a 15% cut from sports betting proceeds, estimated to be up to $100 million per year once the industry is up and running, according to a nonpartisan analysis. Most of the money is dedicated to help fund an ambitious and expensive plan to improve public schools.

Baltimore Sun reporter Bryn Stole contributed to this article.

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