Describing online casino as the missing leg of the gaming stool in Maryland, Democratic state Senator Ron Watson believes he and his colleagues will be able to get a bill through the legislature when they return to Annapolis in January.
The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency (MLGCA) plans to award a contract on July 31 to a vendor to produce a detailed report on the potential impact of legal iGaming in Maryland, ahead of a statutory deadline to submit such a report to the General Assembly by November 15.
“We’ll get the results back and we’ll craft a bill. We’ll push it through. It’s that simple,” Watson told VIXIO GamblingCompliance between panel discussions on Saturday (July 15) at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) summer meeting in Denver.
“I tried to bring this bill up almost four years ago, but there was no understanding of the difference between iGaming and sports betting,” said Watson, who held off on proposing any legislation for iGaming until he introduced Senate Bill 267 during this year’s session.
The bill proposing a 2024 voter referendum on online gaming failed to pass the Maryland Senate before a March 20 deadline. However, lawmakers did agree to include the provision mandating an official study of the issue in the state's annual budget law.
Watson told VIXIO that he saw the failure to pass the bill as an “opportunity to bring everyone up to speed.”
The third party chosen to conduct the study will need to examine methods to transition individuals from the illegal iGaming market to the legal market, consumer protection mechanisms, and the impact of iGaming on problem gambling.
Watson said the study will also determine if it makes sense for Maryland to join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) that enables current members Delaware, New Jersey, Nevada and Michigan to combine player liquidity for online poker games.
“That’s what I really care about,” Watson said. “Making sure there is nothing to impede our ability to be apart of that shared player pool. We’re just waiting to get these responses [from the study] back.”
Watson also admitted that legalizing iGaming was partly about raising tax revenue for the state.
“We recognize in Maryland that we need new revenue streams,” he said. “We recognize that this is the missing leg of the stool … and we are behind. We are looking forward to it.”
The state of iGaming in the U.S. was a major topic of conversation over the four-day conference in Denver that concluded on Saturday.
Howard Glaser, global head of government affairs and legislative counsel with Light & Wonder, told regulators and lawmakers on Friday that “casinos won’t be able to compete going forward in a digital entertainment world if a casino can’t put their product online.”
Current estimates by the American Gaming Association (AGA) suggest that Americans are already wagering $338bn annually on illegal online gambling.
“So, there may be only seven states that have legalized iGaming but it is available in every state to the tune of hundreds of billions on dollars,” Glaser said during a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges of legalizing iGaming.
“So, there is money on the table ... . It is a message what we haven’t gotten across very strongly.”
New Hampshire Republican Senator Timothy Lang, who participated in the hour-long conversation with Glaser, also confirmed he has “something in the works” for next year after his bill passed the New Hampshire Senate this year only for the House Ways and Means Committee to unanimously vote down the bill on April 26.
Lang said New Hampshire has embraced the internet from a gambling perspective, starting with iLottery in 2017, followed by mobile sports betting in 2019.
“However, this year I put in my iGaming bill and while it got through the Senate, the House has 400 members and the [incumbent charitable gaming] operators had a knee-jerk reaction to it,” Lang said. “While senators understood what was going on and that’s good, [those operators] went heavy on the cannibalization argument” in the House.
“Now that the knee-jerk reaction is over, I’ve been contacted by the operators wanting it,” he added.
Lang said he would propose a bill again in 2024, and that he is confident that the Senate will pass it for a second time.
“We’ll work on the House,” he said. “New Hampshire will have iGaming in 2024.”
It is a similar story in Iowa and Indiana, where efforts to legalize online casino gaming have received tepid support from lawmakers in the past few years.
Republican Senator Jon Ford, president of the NCLGS, expressed confidence that proponents will finally be able to get a bill through the Indiana legislature next year as part of a broader gaming modernization proposal.
But he reminded attendees that in 2019 Indiana lawmakers passed the biggest gambling reform measure in 30 years and there is “some gaming fatigue.”
Iowa Republican Representative Jacob Bossman said there was a House study bill introduced last session in Iowa but there was no intention of trying to pass it.
“I think there is still a lot of education that needs to be done. I think we will make a lot of progress next year,” said Bossman, who also participated in the panel discussion that was moderated by Ford.
“But with a lot of gaming bills it takes multiple years,” he cautioned.