More online gaming in the cards for Maryland?

Just in this century, voters in Maryland have legalized slot machines, and then table games, followed by in-house and online sports betting. Could online table games be next?

It’s something being studied by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, and their report is expected sometime in November. Then, in January, Prince George’s County state Senator Ron Watson plans to once again introduce legislation that would legalize online casino gambling, which would include games like poker, blackjack, roulette, and slot machines. It might also include online lottery tickets.

States like Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia already allow online casino games, while Virginia sells lottery tickets online.

“Many view this as an additional revenue stream, currently projected to make between $30 million to $40 million,” Watson said.

For now, the lottery commission’s study will focus on the impact online gaming could have around the state, both in terms of state finances and of its potential impact on casinos, and make recommendations on how to structure it if the bill passes in Annapolis next year.

Watson said that in other states where online gaming has passed, new accounts that are set up are not typically associated with the rewards programs that casinos offer their regular customers.

Earlier this year, Watson sponsored a bill to legalize online casino gaming, but it never got out of the Senate Budget and Taxation committee.

In all, seven states around the country allow for some sort of online casino gambling. The American Gaming Association said that what’s known as iGaming generated over $5 billion in total revenue in those states last year, and nearly $1.3 billion in tax revenue in those seven states.

Through June of this year, iGaming revenue was up over 22% to nearly $3 billion in those states.

The AGA, a DC-based trade group for gaming interests, said last year it estimated that around $338 billion was wagered through illegal online table gaming, resulting in nearly $4 billion in lost tax revenue in states where it’s currently banned.

“Here in the state of Maryland, we’re already projecting a $400 million deficit,” Watson said. “We need additional revenues, and we have a lot of bills to pay with respect to our educational goals.”

Watson said efforts to address the rise in problem gambling that’s occurred as gaming has expanded around the state will also get a boost if the legislature passes his bill in 2024.

“There’s been a lot of money put away to problem gamers, but the problem gamers have not been reached. And it’s because it’s one of those self-identify issues,” Watson said. “[Casino operators] say it’s very difficult to observe an individual who comes into a brick and mortar casino, starts gambling, and then determine that they may have a gambling problem. Whereas if you translate everything online … the software can determine and keep track of how often a person is betting, the amounts a person is betting. Before a person logs into their account, [it can] flash the 1-800 number that they can reach out to for help.”

Watson added that online gaming allows users to have their accounts restricted if they’re exceeding normal betting capacities, giving them a 30-day “cool off period.”

But even if Watson’s bill makes its way to the governor’s desk in 2024 and gets signed into law, voters will still have the final say. He said that Attorney General Anthony Brown has already weighed in and determined that because it would be another expansion of gambling in the state, voters would have to approve the new law by referendum.

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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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