New sports betting bill could bring DC bettors to competitive Md.

Wrapping up the state legislative session on Monday, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill that would legalize sports betting later this year.

The legislation is both less restrictive and more competitive than the first version drawn up at the start of the session, as lawmakers went out of their way to ensure smaller and minority-owned businesses would have the chance to get involved.

Right now, Annapolis insiders say there’s little reason to think Gov. Larry Hogan won’t sign the measure into law. For state government, that means lots of tax revenue.

Lawmakers were working on sports betting during the 2020 legislative session, but it took time to reach an agreement that worked for all the interested parties.

In particular, pressure from the state’s legislative Black caucus to make sure that smaller and minority-owned businesses could cut their own pieces of the pie. And that increased competition is better for residents placing a wager too.

“The state has now allowed up to 60 sportsbook applicants to apply for an online license, so it’s pretty much a free market at this point,” said Sara Slane, a D.C.-area sports betting and casino gaming executive.

“They added a lot on the retail side as well, so I think there will be plenty of opportunities for sportsbook operators to get into the state of Maryland,” Slane added.

If 60 applicants seems like a lot, you’re not wrong. By comparison, Virginia allows for 15 statewide, while the District allows just one operator to offer mobile betting citywide.

“Typically, those licenses are tethered to existing brick and mortar facilities in the state,” said Slane.

“I’m not sure the existing brick-and-mortar casino operators are entirely happy with the way it ended up shaking out, but I think at the end of the day they’re happy this bill passed and that they can move forward now.”

The fact that mobile licenses aren’t “tethered” to brick-and-mortar facilities means those venues that decide to host a physical sportsbook — including any of the state’s casinos and professional sports stadiums, or even bars and restaurants that want to host gaming — will still be competing with mobile apps, which is where most of the betting action around the U.S. happens.

That may cause some restaurant owners to think twice about applying for a license, but Slane says it will still be “nice to have” the option.

But sports betting might not be a primary motivator for customers to walk through the doors. With the mobile market already operating in Virginia, it is unlikely that anyone living there will cross state lines to wager on Maryland’s mobile apps.

In fact, it’s likely many of the companies already operating in Virginia will also apply to host wagering in Maryland. But Slane said gamblers in the District may be a different story.

“I think the biggest outlier in this is D.C.,” said Slane. She said the DC Lottery’s decision to award its only citywide license to the often-criticized Intralot, which is unpopular for both the way the app works and the odds it provides because of its monopoly, means “if you’re [betting] in the District you’re probably going to go to Virginia or Maryland.”

The Chinatown neighborhood has become the local wagering mecca since gaming began in D.C. last year.

William Hill’s physical sportsbook at Capital One Arena and its geofenced mobile app (it only works within two blocks of the arena) see exponentially more wagers compared to the Gambet app that operates around the rest of the city, excluding federal zones.

That trend continued in March, which saw more than $11 million wagered through William Hill’s system at the arena last month, compared with the $3 million-plus wagered on the Gambet app.

“Typically it’s the other way around, just because of the accessibility and people being able to bet online versus people having to go somewhere to go place a bet,” said Slane.

“We’ll see if the neighboring states put pressure on [DC] to expand the offering from one limited operator in the District to opening it up a bit more.”

Shane added: “DC is definitely at a disadvantage to neighboring states.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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