Earlier this week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made public a letter he wrote to the members of the state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission, urging them to pick up the pace and start issuing licenses for mobile betting by the time football starts in early September.
At their regularly scheduled June meeting, the chairman, whom the governor appointed, responded to the letter and hinted that the regulatory process could begin to speed up.
In the blistering letter sent June 14, Hogan told the panel “you have allowed the process to stagnate and become mired in overly bureaucratic procedures that have needlessly delayed the state’s ability to maximize the revenue potential.”
Hogan acknowledged the complexities of the law, which he said was written “to appease special interest groups” and also blamed “legal obstacles placed by the Office of the Attorney General.”
SWARC chairman Tom Brandt began the monthly meeting Thursday morning by reading his response to the governor’s letter, while also providing some insight into where the things stand with the panel.
“I understand that many are frustrated,” Brandt began. “Maryland’s law is particularly complex because unlike any other jurisdiction there is a significant, deliberate effort to enable small businesses, minority owned businesses, and women-owned businesses to have equity positions and to participate in the growth of the new sports wagering industry.”
Running through the numerous bureaucratic layers (he named three different agencies involved in just getting the process started) and studies that have to be conducted before licenses can be approved, Brandt explained “each of these legal requirements have required time, consideration of study outcomes when available, and legal analyses and advice to the commission.”
But there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.
“SWARC has also been working on drafts of the preliminary regulations and applications,” Brandt said. “A draft of these preliminary regulations and applications will be delivered to SWARC members early next week. I intend for SWARC to take action with respect to these drafts at a special meeting.”
Later on in the hearing, that meeting was set for Wednesday, June 29, at 9 a.m.
While five Maryland casinos have been accepting wagers with cash since the winter, licenses for mobile betting and for small businesses that aren’t specifically mentioned in the law have been on hold until the regulations are drawn up so that the application process can begin.
In his letter, Hogan demanded “a firm and transparent timeline for mobile sports wagering” and to expedite both mobile licenses and retail licenses for the businesses that have applied so far. If the draft regulations are voted and approved by SWARC later this month, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency said it would act as quickly as it could to deliver on its end.
“Once they are finalized and you have all voted on them, they would be submitted through the normal regulatory process for approval which takes a little bit of time,” said Jim Nielsen, the Chief Operating Officer of the Maryland Lottery.
“We do intend to do these as emergency regulations to try to accelerate things so that they can be released fairly quickly.”
Brandt described the 89 pages of draft regulations as “lengthy, confusing and requiring patience.”
“Based on what we know today, I expect the SWARC applications for mobile sports wagering and additional class B (retail) licenses to be published this summer and for SWARC to begin accepting applications shortly there after,” Brandt said.
But he gave no firm date as to when mobile licenses would be issued, nor did he promise to have mobile licenses issued to any gaming operator by the time football season gets underway at the end of the summer.
The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission (MLGCC), meanwhile, said it will open its eLicensing platform Friday “to all businesses and individuals who wish to pursue Class B sports wagering facility licenses or mobile sports wagering licenses,” according to a Thursday news release.
Up to 60 mobile licenses and up to 30 Class B facility licenses are authorized to be awarded by SWARC.
Class B sports wagering facility licenses are intended for “bars, restaurants, or other businesses focused on providing entertainment to adults such as bowling alleys, sporting venues or golf clubs,” according to SWARC.
MLGCC said it would conduct a criminal and financial background investigation as one of two steps required for each applicant seeking a sports wagering license, in an effort to determine “whether businesses and their principal owners have the good character, integrity and financial stability to be qualified for sports wagering licenses.”
Businesses will also need to complete the forthcoming SWARC application, “which will conduct a competitive process to award Class B and mobile licenses.”
“The MLGCC’s investigations and the SWARC’s application process may not have the same starting point, but it’s always been the plan for them to unfold on parallel tracks,” said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin.
He said some investigations could take “several months,” suggesting “now is a great opportunity for all potential applicants to get the ball rolling.
The eLicensing system will allow prospective applicants to input information and compile an array of documents required for submission.”
“As we await the SWARC application, we’ll be able to spend time assisting small businesses that aren’t familiar with the level of investigation that exists in sports wagering. Our staff is ready to work with them and help them to understand what’s required,” said Martin.
MLGCC said while it will determine “if a business or individual meets the state’s qualification standards for a license … SWARC will rank the applications it receives for licenses and determine if awarding a license is in the public interest.”
SWARC will not award a license to any business or individual that “has not been found qualified by Maryland Lottery and Gaming,” according to MLGCC.