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When state lawmakers debated sports betting legislation earlier this year, they hoped that Marylanders would be legally allowed to place wagers by the time the NFL season kicked off in September.
That timeline, it turns out, was a bit ambitious. It’s going to be several months before the state’s first sportsbooks will be able to accept bets.
Although lawmakers approved sports wagering legislation overwhelmingly, in the wake of a successful 2020 referendum, it’s taking time for regulators to establish rules to govern the new industry.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who signed the sports betting law in May, told Maryland Matters in a recent interview that he has leaned on the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency to move as quickly as possible.
“They said it’s just impossible to get it done by the start of football season,” Hogan said.
“I pressed them pretty hard about making sure we get it done at least by the end of football season when all the betting takes place, really — in the playoffs and the Super Bowl,” he added.
Numerous companies have expressed interest in opening betting operations in the state, but it’s unclear how many will apply. Application fees are hefty, ranging from $50,000 to $2 million for bricks-and-mortar locations and $500,000 for companies interested in a mobile/online license.
Many of those eyeing Maryland are established players with nationally-known names; others are relative newcomers hoping to get in on the ground floor of a new industry.
Although Maryland lawmakers have taken steps to ensure that women- and minority-owned companies find a level playing field, observers say the barriers to entry may prove discouraging to those who don’t have experience in the field.
Maryland has a two-step process for approving sports betting operators.
The newly-created Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) will award licenses based on the criteria laid out in state law. Then, Maryland Lottery and Gaming must conduct criminal and financial background investigations.
A public comment period on more than 200 pages of proposed agency regulations is expected to open later this month and run for 30 days.
The SWARC holds its first meeting on Monday in Annapolis.
In a statement, the agency cautioned that it will take time for regulators to create policies and safeguards that ensure that bettors can plunk down money at Maryland sportsbooks with confidence.
“The Sports Wagering Law requires [the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency] to regulate sports wagering ‘to the same extent’ that it regulates casino gaming,” the agency said in a statement.
“For both casinos and sports wagering, the vetting of operators to determine if they qualify for licenses requires a meticulous and thorough process. MLGCA will expedite the process to the best of its ability while fulfilling its obligation to ensure that applicants demonstrate the necessary integrity and financial stability to be licensed.”
Seventeen locations were identified in the bill approved this year, including:
- Several casinos (MGM National Harbor, Live Casino & Hotel, Horseshoe, Ocean Downs, Hollywood and Rocky Gap);
- Three professional sports stadiums (M&T Bank, Oriole Park and FedEx Field);
- Laurel Park Race Track and Pimlico Race Track; and
- Maryland State Fairgrounds.
A smattering of local bars and restaurants was also included.
According to the agency’s website, “some of the entities named in the Sports Wagering Law may have their brick-and-mortar sports wagering operations up and running during the fall of 2021.”
“For a business that is not named in the Sports Wagering Law, the review by SWARC and a licensing background investigation could take between 12 and 24 months from May 2021.”
Roughly two dozen states allow some form for sports betting, including all of Maryland’s neighbors.