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Maryland casinos should have in-person sports betting in time for NFL playoffs after state commission approval

Five Maryland casinos are significantly closer to offering in-person gambling on sports after getting the green light from a state commission on Thursday.

The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission gave its blessing to 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. The vote was 5-2.

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The casinos might be able to start offering sports betting within 30 to 45 days, and certainly in time for the NFL playoffs in January and the Super Bowl in February, said John A. Martin, director of the State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

“We still have a few important steps to go before we get to that final grand opening for each and every property,” Martin said during a separate meeting of the state lottery commission on Thursday.

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The casinos are among 17 gambling facilities that were offered the first opportunity to apply for Maryland’s in-person sports betting licenses, along with certain off-track betting facilities, bingo halls and racetracks.

Eventually, the state will open up an application process for up to 30 additional in-person betting licenses and up to 60 licenses for mobile betting apps.

The five casinos had already cleared a preliminary review from the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Commission, which reviewed applications to ensure the casinos could follow the strict rules for offering sports betting.

The casinos had thought they might get approval from the application commission two weeks ago, but the commission opted not to vote at that time.

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Horseshoe Casino Baltimore’s Randy Conroy said his team is “excited and honored” to get the signoff from the commission for sports betting.

The casino has been renovating its first floor to include a sports-themed bar and restaurant with 14 kiosks and six agent windows for customers to place bets on sports.

“We’re trying to create an immersive experience around the sportsbook,” said Conroy, Horseshoe’s senior vice president and general manager.

Conroy did not want to predict when the casino would get the final approval to take bets, but acknowledged “we want to make sure we take advantage of the last few games of the year” in the NFL season.

Hollywood Casino’s vice president and general manager, Allie Evangelista, said in a statement that her team appreciates the “hard work” done by the application commission.

“We look forward to completing the regulatory process and opening our sportsbook as soon as possible,” she said.

MGM officials said in a statement that they’re excited to be “one step closer” to offering sports betting at the National Harbor casino.

State lottery officials must inspect and approve further details of the casinos’ operational plans.

Like Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, other casinos have been preparing to open sports gambling operations, renovating their facilities to include sports-themed lounges and areas for customers to place their bets.

The application commission had gotten pressure from those supporting the sports betting licenses at the casinos, including a letter sent from government leaders in Prince George’s County, home to the MGM casino. Gov. Larry Hogan has criticized the application commission for the pace of its work.

Hogan, a Republican, posted on social media Thursday that he was pleased the commission “finally acted to approve these licenses.” Hogan called it “the legislature’s commission,” although he appointed the chairman and another member under the legislation that he signed into law.

A factor in the holdup appeared to be concerns about ensuring meaningful participation in the expanded gambling industry by minority- and women-owned businesses. Some of the other facilities among the 17 designated for the first round of applications have ownership by women and minorities, but have not progressed as far in the application review process.

“I’m troubled that we don’t have more minority interest at the ready, but what troubles me more, quite honestly, is I’m not certain where the pipeline is,” said Rosie Allen-Herring, a commission member, who is CEO of the United Way of the National Capital Area.

Commission member Cassandra Stevenson, a senior vice president with Raymond James Financial, suggested waiting until those applications reached the commission and approving the first group of in-person licenses simultaneously.

“So when they come into our commission, we will now have a more diverse population and we are approving licenses at the same time,” she said, before voting against awarding the licenses.

Frank Turner, a commission member who is a former state delegate, expressed reservations about the pace of the work and allowing the casinos to operate sports betting first. “I feel to a certain degree I’m being rushed,” Turner said.

Turner said the state has a history of being “generous” with casinos and allowing them to expand their gambling operations over the years, starting with slot machines and moving to table games and now sports gambling.

“We really should at least give some of those other companies an opportunity to be part of this decision-making process,” said Turner, who also voted against the licenses.

The application commission expects to meet frequently in the coming months as applications move forward from the other locations.

The state will levy a 15% tax on the facilities’ sports gambling proceeds, with most of the money dedicated to public schools. Once all of the in-person and online sports gambling is up and running, the industry is expected to take in about $100 million per year, according to a nonpartisan analysis.

While many have been eager for in-person sports betting to get up and running in Maryland, it is expected to eventually be only a small part of the market. Consultants told the application commission that in other states that have both in-person and online or app-based sports betting, only 5% to 15% of bets and revenues come from in-person wagers.

The expansion of gambling to encompass sports betting came following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the door for all states to offer sports betting. Maryland voters approved a ballot question to allow sports betting in 2020, which was followed by the law passed earlier this year setting the parameters of how the industry will operate.

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