Maryland Delegate Urges Caution Over iGaming Legalization In 2024

September 26, 2023
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As some Maryland lawmakers urge regulators to reopen the application window for sports-betting licenses, others are looking to push an internet gaming bill through the legislature when members return to Annapolis in January.
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As some Maryland lawmakers urge regulators to reopen the application window for sports-betting licenses, others are looking to push an internet gaming bill through the legislature when members return to Annapolis in January.

State Representative Edith Patterson, a Democrat and chair of the Maryland House Subcommittee on Racing and Gaming, made it clear that whatever the legislature decides to do next session, lawmakers will “move very cautiously.”

“We move very cautiously with anything we do,” Patterson told Vixio GamblingCompliance last week. She spoke after a National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) seminar on Maryland sports-betting regulations at Morgan State University’s Center for Data Analytics and Sports Gaming Research.

Patterson said Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, both Democrats, are “very concerned about whether the system will support” legalizing iGaming.

The General Assembly leaders are also concerned “whether all the regulations are in place and whether or not there is a form of fair play and equity,” she said.

Democratic state Senator Ron Watson, who co-sponsored an online casino bill with fellow Democrat Senator Nancy King during this year’s session, has made it clear he believes there is enough support to push Senate Bill 267 through the legislature and get a referendum on the November 2024 ballot.

The bill proposing a 2024 voter referendum on iGaming failed to pass the Maryland Senate before the March 20 deadline, but the measure carries over into next year’s session.

Lawmakers also commissioned a formal study on legalization of iGaming as part of the state's annual budget law. An independent report on the issue is due to be delivered to lawmakers in November.

Robert Ruben, a gaming attorney and partner with Duane Morris in Baltimore, noticed that some in attendance at the NCLGS seminar supported iGaming while others were opposed, which was “a microcosm” of how lawmakers in the General Assembly see the issue.

“It will be interesting to see if it passes,” Ruben said of iGaming. “It will require a referendum [because] it’s an expansion of gambling. I’m sure there will be a lot of debate over who will be eligible for those licenses, what they will cost and what the response to the measure will be.”

Patterson also said lawmakers would take a keen interest in “where the funds are going and how are we going to make sure that they are passed over to solve the deficit within the state’s budget.” 

“So right now, I don’t know,” Patterson told Vixio on Thursday (September 21) when asked about the chances of lawmakers passing an iGaming bill next year.

iGaming's prospects may have been boosted somewhat by Maryland's budget situation.

Following the 2023 session, a report released by the state's Department of Legislative Services projected that budget surpluses of $232m and $263m in fiscal years 2025 and 2026, respectively, had evaporated. The department now projects that the fiscal 2025 budget will have a deficit of $418m, with the deficit rising in 2026 to $572m.

“Whenever I speak with the [House] Speaker, she is very cautious about it,” Patterson said of iGaming. “Let me say in full disclosure, as the chair of the subcommittee, I get a lot of pressure from my colleagues, such as [Republican former House Minority Leader and gaming subcommittee member] Jason [Buckel] and some others who feel they are slighted or want a piece of the action as well.”

Patterson said her response is always the same: “We have to wait and see what the position is of the Speaker and Senate President.”

Lawmaker Wants Sports-Betting Licensing Window Reopened

Buckel recently made it clear to his colleagues and regulators that he also wants them to re-open the application window for Maryland's remaining sports-betting licenses.

A 2021 state law mandated an independent Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) to award up to 60 mobile wagering licenses and 30 retail sportsbook licenses.

Buckel said he believes there were dead spots in the market that affected Allegany County, which is the district he represents in the General Assembly.

“I suggest his concern is that because the casino — Rocky Gap — which was promised one of the retail licenses by the legislature did not apply for it,” Ruben said.

With a $1m license fee for a Class A-2 license, Ruben said that with not “a lot of rooftops around to support it, I think they must have made a business decision that it wasn’t worthwhile.”

“So, without that large casino having a retail sportsbook, it appears that Delegate Buckel, like other people in Allegany County, would like the opportunity to apply for that,” he said.

“I don’t know if SWARC will reopen the window. I suspect they would wait for … the legislature before doing so.”

Buckel was expected to sponsor a bill in the 2024 legislative session to require that regulators reopen the window and accept applications for the state’s remaining licenses.

Currently, Maryland has 12 retail sportsbooks and 12 mobile platforms in operation, with several licenses either being awarded but not yet launched or in the pipeline. 

Because SWARC's application window closed in October last year, “that’s all there is,” said Ruben. “If you want to file an application to open either retail or mobile, you cannot. The window is closed.”

In addition to the 12 mobile licenses currently operating, four others were awarded by the SWARC but have not yet launched. That includes WynnBET, which has announced it does not plan to operate in the state.

Five pending applications have yet to be awarded licenses by the SWARC. As for retail locations, there were six applicants with two currently operating, three awarded licenses by SWARC but not yet launched, and one venue that has not yet been awarded a license.

These applications are separate from the 17 retail locations that were designated in the 2021 sports wagering law. Those designated locations included the state’s six casinos, the Pimlico and Laurel racetracks, the Maryland State Fairgrounds, three professional sports stadiums, and several off-track betting locations.

See also: Q&A: Sports Betting in Maryland 

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