Maryland Governor Larry Hogan was critical of the state’s mobile sports-betting application review body and called for an accelerated timeline that would allow mobile wagering to begin in time for the National Football League (NFL) season in September.
Despite legislation being enacted in May 2021 following a successful voter referendum in November 2020, the Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) has yet to even begin to accept applications for up to 60 available mobile betting licenses.
To date, the state has only five retail locations accepting wagers.
“Instead of decisive action to implement the voters’ decision, 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 of this emerging industry,” Hogan wrote in a letter to the commission that was released Wednesday (June 15).
The SWARC was created as part of House Bill 940, which set the framework for sports betting in the state.
The seven-member body comprises two political appointees each from the Republican governor, the Senate President, and the Speaker of the House, plus the chairman of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, which is a position appointed by Hogan.
Legislative leaders in Maryland designed the bill to give minority-owned businesses a level playing field, and the delay in the process has been at least in part to create a uniform start date rather than give larger operators the chance to launch sooner.
“I realize that this ongoing delay is the byproduct of an overly complex piece of legislation that was skewed to appease special interest groups and organizations. While much work is ostensibly ‘in progress’ SWARC has still not defined a clear pathway or timeline for mobile sports wagering implementation,” the governor wrote.
“It is simply inexcusable for that to be the case more than a year after the bill was signed into law.”
Hogan called for the commission to veer away from the path of a uniform start date and instead approve applications on a rolling basis, as well as prioritizing licenses for mobile operators linked to the 17 retail entities named in House Bill 940 that have already been qualified for licensure by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency (MLGCA).
Those 17 entities include land-based casinos whose retail sportsbooks are being operated by FanDuel, BetMGM, Caesars and Penn National, as well as other venues partnered with Rush Street Interactive and PointsBet, according to VIXIO GamblingCompliance's U.S. Sports Betting Partnership Tracker.
“Six of these 17 retail entities are experienced gaming operators that are already licensed for mobile wagering in numerous other states,” Hogan wrote. “This consolidated approach, coupled with the sports wagering law’s alternative licensing standard, would allow several of these proven entities to have mobile operations launched by early fall.”
“The mobile sports wagering marketplace is extremely capital-intensive and highly competitive (high-risk, low-margin) and dominated by only a few companies,” he continued. “Setting up an arbitrary points system or setting unachievable minority equity ownership goals will likely only hurt those entities you are trying to help.”
The SWARC is set to hold its monthly meeting Thursday (June 16) and Hogan called for the commission to “set a firm and transparent timeline” at the meeting “so those involved in the industry and Maryland residents can track progress.”
In addition, he called for the release of drafts of mobile sports-betting applications and accompanying regulations immediately following the meeting “so the industry can begin preparing comments, materials, and responses.”
He also praised the MLGCA for going “above and beyond to make this launch happen.”
“Mobile sports wagering will be dominant in Maryland, just as it is in other states, with estimates that 80 to 90 percent of all wagers will be made via mobile devices,” Hogan wrote. “The ongoing delay is preventing Maryland from fully and properly tapping into this market.”