As the National Football League kicks off its regular season this week, gamblers in Maryland aren’t yet able to place a bet on whether the Ravens or the Washington Football Team will win their games.
Even though Maryland voters gave the go-ahead for sports gambling on the ballot in 2020, the process of turning that approval into a full-fledged and regulated industry takes time.
Some proponents of gambling on sports had hoped to get at least part of the industry up and running for the potentially lucrative NFL and college football seasons. While that hasn’t happened, there’s still a chance betting will be a reality before the football season is finished.
Sen. Craig Zucker, who has been a driving force for sports betting in the Maryland General Assembly, said he’s optimistic at least some gambling will be in place later this fall — and certainly in time for the NFL Super Bowl in early 2022.
“I feel like the sooner the better, but we’ve got to make sure we do it right and do it in a transparent and inclusive way,” said Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat.
The vote during the 2020 general election was only a broad approval for legalizing sports gambling.
It came after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a ban that had prevented most states from offering gambling on sports. Every state bordering Maryland and the District of Columbia already has sports gambling industries in place.
Maryland’s ballot question left the details up to state lawmakers, who spent the early months of 2021 hashing out details, including how many licenses there would be for in-person and online betting and what the tax rates would be. The bill passed easily and was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.
Zucker said state lawmakers delivered on their promise to get the law passed in 2021.
“We’ve done our part,” he said. “Now it’s just up to adopting the regulations and getting them up and running.”
The development of the industry is now in the hands of two agencies: the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency and the newly-created Sports Wagering Application Review Commission.
“We’re looking at late fall, early winter. It is our intent to expedite the process as efficiently as we can to get us there,” said John A. Martin, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. “We’re still very much pushing for football season.”
The governor is hopeful the application and review process is on track, his spokesman said.
“The governor continues to urge lottery officials to do everything possible to move quickly within reason,” said Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan. “Our focus is on meeting the late fall-early winter timeline, and we expect to see more progress in that direction soon.”
The Lottery and Gaming Control Agency has proposed 227 pages of legal regulations that will govern all of the minutiae of the new industry, from the records that gambling operators must maintain to the types of bets that will be allowed. Those regulations are in a review process this month, with a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 22.
In the meantime, the agency is allowed to move forward with the application process under emergency regulations.
Maryland’s sports betting law includes a mix of in-person licenses and mobile and online licenses.
Some of the in-person licenses are set aside for designated entities, including the state’s six casinos, certain off-track betting and bingo facilities, the state fairgrounds and the thoroughbred horse racing tracks in Laurel and Baltimore.
The three major professional sports stadiums — home to the Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens and Washington Football Team — also are designated for in-person licenses.
Martin said his agency will open an online application process soon for the designated locations, with casinos expected to apply first. There will be a series of investigations to check on the casinos’ financial plans, security programs and other details to make sure the sports gambling plans are up to par.
The applications that pass the background investigations will be sent to the new Sports Wagering Application Review Commission, which has the final say on awarding licenses.
The casinos already are preparing their sports betting operations.
Live! Casino and Hotel in Anne Arundel County already built a “Sports & Social” lounge, where customers can watch games on a 47-foot big screen or dozens of other TVs while eating, drinking and socializing.
The lounge is open and offering watch parties — but without anyone placing bets on sports just yet.
“We are staffed and ready to go as soon as we can,” said Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming, the Baltimore company that operates Live! “We will be ready to get up and operating within a very short window in time.”
Initially, Norton expects that gamblers will be able to place their sports bets at teller windows and kiosks run by their sportsbook partner, FanDuel. Eventually, the casino may offer tablets or other handheld devices for gamblers to place their bets from their table or barstool.
“I think it will continue to evolve,” Norton said.
In Baltimore, the Horseshoe Casino and its parent company, Caesars Entertainment, are developing an in-person sports betting area and mobile betting app and recently inked a deal to advertise with the Baltimore Ravens at nearby M&T Bank Stadium.
The Baltimore Orioles have been quiet about any plans they have for sports gambling at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and declined to comment this week.
It’s likely to take well into 2022 before the competitive brick-and-mortar and online sports betting licenses are issued.
The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission still needs to set up that process, including deciding whether the approval process should be designed to ensure that minority- and women-owned businesses can secure licenses. At a meeting later this month, the application commission will get a briefing on the legal aspects of having “race-conscious” elements of the sports betting program.
Some of the license application fees paid by the first applicants will go into a fund designed to help small businesses and minority- and women-owned businesses get into the industry.
Sports gambling companies will pay a 15% tax on their proceeds, which will go largely to public education. Nonpartisan analysts estimate that the state government could bring in about $15 million annually once the industry is fully up and running in a few years.