Marylanders vote ‘yes’ on ballot questions about sports betting, state budget

Sports fans in Maryland could one day place a bet on their favorite team or player, as the state’s voters approved legalizing sports betting in this fall’s election.

With voters favoring the measure by a margin of about 2-to-1, the focus shifts to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to work out the details of which companies could apply for licenses, how fans would place bets and how much of a cut the state would take.

A nonpartisan analysis estimated that Maryland could bring in $18.2 million per year from a combination of in-person and mobile betting on sports, assuming the state would tax sports gambling revenue at 20% as it does table games in the state’s casinos.

The debate over how to establish the industry will be informed by a “disparity study” to determine whether racial minorities or women face a disadvantage in participating in the gambling industry. If the study finds that’s the case, lawmakers may need to include provisions so that underrepresented groups have a chance to participate.

With those questions unresolved, it’s not known yet when bettors will be able to place a wager.

Sports betting companies, casinos, the horse racing industry and Washington’s NFL team poured millions into their effort to persuade voters to support sports gambling.

Democratic and Republican politicians alike, as well as the statewide teachers' union, also backed Question 2. Proponents said sports betting would raise money for public education, though there is not yet a concrete plan for how much money would be raised and how much would be distributed to school systems.

With court rulings opening the door to sports betting in the United States, states surrounding Maryland have legalized the practice in recent years.

The measure was linked to education funding, which is generally popular with voters. The question was worded to say that sports betting would be allowed “for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education.”

State Comptroller Peter Franchot has long argued that gambling isn’t the answer to address state fiscal problems. And other opponents have included groups complaining that gambling invites crime into their communities, or that it amounts to a tax on casinogoers who can ill afford it.

Maryland voters also voted 3-to-1 to approve a measure to give General Assembly lawmakers more say in crafting the state government’s annual budget.

Maryland’s governor has the strongest budget authority in the nation, with state lawmakers able only to cut money from the proposal. Lawmakers cannot rearrange money within the budget.

After decades of considering the idea of seeking more power, lawmakers sent the issue to voters statewide in the form of Question 1 on the ballot. The push this year came from Democratic lawmakers, though over the years it was variously supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

The change would allow lawmakers in the future to be able to cut from the governor’s budget and reassign that money to different areas. The governor would be able to exercise a line-item veto on those changes, and lawmakers could override such vetoes if they call a special session of the legislature.

In a statement, advocates from the Marylanders for Question 1 committee celebrated the decisive win.

“Question 1 will make our state budgeting process more transparent and democratic,” the statement says. “State legislators can now work collaboratively with the governor to set and protect spending priorities.”

The change would go into effect for the 2024 budget year, after Hogan has completed his second, four-year term in office. He’s barred by term limits from running again.

Still, Hogan and many Republicans campaigned against Question 1, saying the current system works fine and keeps lawmakers in check. Democrats, on the other hand, pushed Question 1 as a good-government measure that would create a better balance of power.

Officials with Marylanders for Question 1 touted the group’s grassroots and digital advertising campaign in persuading voters to approve the amendment.

“[Voters] rejected the misinformation put out by Governor Hogan’s political action committee and cast an affirmative vote for a state budget process that will better reflect our state’s values," the statement says. "This is a good day for public education, health care, and other priorities Marylanders expect to see funded and protected in the state budget.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Barker contributed to this article.

Pamela Wood

Pamela Wood

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics from The Baltimore Sun's State House bureau in Annapolis. She's been with The Baltimore Sun since 2013, and previously wrote for The Capital, the Maryland Gazette, the Daily Times (Salisbury) and Gannett News Service. She grew up in Howard County and graduated from the University of Maryland.

Lillian Reed

Lillian Reed

Lillian Reed covers education for The Baltimore Sun. She joined the paper in 2018 after covering education in Utah for the Salt Lake Tribune. Prior to that, she spent three years as a local government and investigative reporter for The Evening Sun newspaper in Hanover, Pennsylvania, and occasionally for its sister paper, the York Daily Record.