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How could sports betting work in Maryland? Here’s what the House speaker’s bill proposes.

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones laid down the first marker in a debate over who should receive lucrative licenses for sports gambling, now that voters have agreed the state should bet on the practice to raise money for public schools.

The state government could collect tens of millions of dollars a year from companies taking bets on professional and college games, as well as fantasy sports. And those companies would make hundreds of millions more.

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“This will do well for the people of Maryland,” said Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat. “More important is what it can do for education.”

The state would spend its cut to help pay for an ambitious series of school improvements, including expanded prekindergarten, better pay for teachers and enhanced programs to help high school students get ready for college or jobs.

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In a ballot measure last fall, Marylanders approved legalized sports betting with 67% support. That referendum directed lawmakers to implement a sports betting program. That’s the task of the 2021 General Assembly, and where Jones has a proposal scheduled for a hearing Feb. 25.

The legislation outlines three types of licenses: Licenses for in-person betting at the state’s six casinos and two thoroughbred horse racing tracks; up to five more licenses for in-person betting at other locations; and up to 10 licenses for online betting through websites and mobile apps.

Companies could apply for a license for a physical betting location, an online license or both. A licensing commission would set a timeline for taking applications and awarding licenses.

The state would receive 15% of a company’s proceeds to be used for public education. There are no estimates yet of how much that would bring in for what’s called the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund. But a narrower sports betting bill proposed last year estimated that sports betting operators would send about $20 million to the state per year.

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Based on how sports betting has rolled out in other states, nonpartisan analysts estimated last year that a sports betting industry in Maryland would generate revenue equal to about 5% of existing gambling revenue. That works out to about $364 million per year.

While the House of Delegates now has a proposal on paper, the Senate is taking a different tack. The Senate plans to set up a work group that will hold public sessions to hash out different ideas, said Sen. Craig Zucker, who has championed sports betting in that chamber.

A goal of the House speaker’s bill is to ensure that minority- and women-owned companies have a chance to win at least some of the licenses. It would require companies seeking applications to make a “good-faith effort” to include minority investors — and submit proof of that work to the commission that would award the licenses.

”I am most certain that the large applicants, such as the casinos and national gaming companies, will look at this and take this challenge seriously in order to have a meaningful equity partnership,” Jones said.

What the proponents of diversity hope to avoid is expanding the industry in a way that only enhances the wealth of those who already have power and money. They don’t want a repeat of the start of the state’s medical cannabis industry, where there was a messy legal and political struggle to ensure diversity among the businesses involved.

All of Maryland’s neighbors have implemented sports betting in recent years. Virginia is the most recent, launching in January with the first of up to 12 mobile licenses granted to a partnership between and the Washington Football Team and FanDuel, an online fantasy sports provider turned real-money bookmaker that’s based in New York City.

Team owner Daniel Snyder has expressed interest in sports betting in Maryland, where the NFL team plays at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County. He paid visits in 2020 to state lawmakers before the coronavirus pandemic erupted.

Joe Maloney, the team’s vice president of public affairs, said the team remains interested in both on-site and online sports betting.

Representatives for the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens have not said publicly whether they’re interested in offering sports betting.

The lure of sports betting has drawn interest from Maryland’s casinos and horse racing tracks, as well as the nonprofit Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, which has a short racing season as well as an off-track betting operation.

Several companies interested in sports betting contributed millions of dollars in donations and free advertising to a pair of committees that worked to convince voters to support gambling at the ballot box. Contributors included FanDuel and another online betting company, DraftKings of Boston, the owners of the state’s six casinos, the Maryland Jockey Club and the Washington Football Team.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which operates tracks in Laurel and Pimlico in Baltimore, is interested in offering in-person and online betting. The Stronach Group, based in Canada, owns the jockey club.

“The Maryland Jockey Club is pleased that the speaker’s bill recognizes the importance of including the Maryland racing industry in the proposed Sports Betting Program,” the company wrote in a statement. “As we already accept sports wagers on horse races, both in person and mobile, we look forward to launching a full sports betting platform as soon as permitted.”

Some companies interested in winning licenses are touting their interest in partnering with minority businesses.

The Washington Football Team’s Maloney said in a statement that the team supports the “substantive and meaningful” requirements in Jones’ bill for participation by minority- and women-owned businesses.

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“This is an opportunity to inject millions of dollars into these businesses in a rapidly growing industry,” Maloney said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our discussions with House and Senate leaders.”

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Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International, owner of the MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County, said it has multiple relationships with minority vendors.

“We support Maryland’s goal of passing a bill that drives much-needed revenue to education while supporting the diversity goals that are so critical to the state,” the company said in a statement.

Las Vegas-based Caesar’s Entertainment Corp., which owns the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, declined to comment. But it previously pledged to have minority investment worth at least 25% in any sports betting operation.

Baltimore-based The Cordish Cos., which owns Live! Casino and Hotel Maryland at Arundel Mills in Hanover, did not respond to a request for comment.

The upfront push for diversity requirements in sports betting ownership comes after the first round of the state’s medical cannabis licenses went almost entirely to white-owned companies.

A study was conducted that found that minorities and women were at a disadvantage in that industry, and state lawmakers passed a law requiring another round of licenses. That round of licensing gave preference points in the application process to companies owned and run by minorities and women.

Some lawmakers want to avoid a repeat of those diversity problems by putting minority preference in the sports betting licensing process from the start.

“I want to make sure we get it right,” Zucker said.

The Montgomery County Democrat said that means making sure there’s “a strong minority business component” and that Maryland is competitive with nearby states with legalized sports betting.

Zucker said that after receiving public input, the Senate work group will propose its bill, “hopefully within the next couple of weeks.”

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