Maryland’s uniquely expansive sports-wagering legislation and divided regulatory responsibilities mean mobile betting may not launch for another year, the state’s chief gaming official said during a VIXIO GamblingCompliance webinar on Tuesday.
John Martin, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency (MLGA), told attendees of the “Meet The Regulators: New Markets In U.S. Sports Betting” webinar that officials will need to strike up a better working relationship with the state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), as the pair jointly implement legislation that was enacted earlier this year.
Under state law, the nine-member SWARC appointed by the governor and the legislature is responsible for qualifying license applicants and awarding them licenses, while the MLGA performs background reviews and issues the licenses pending inspections and other compliance checks.
“The reality is we have yet to really work well together. That’s a work in progress,” Martin said. “And when you realize we may have another 12-24 months of this, we absolutely have to find a way to work with the SWARC to make this happen.”
Martin explained that issuing a sports-betting license in Maryland involves a four-step process and much back and forth between the two agencies.
As things stand, the MLGA and SWARC are only halfway through that process, and only for five of 17 physical locations that are expressly named in state law as being eligible for a retail sportsbook license.
Maryland gaming regulators have found the owners of five land-based casinos qualified for sports wagering, but SWARC did not take action to award any of them a license during a meeting in early November and it is unclear when the commission will do so.
On top of the 17 named locations, Maryland law allows for up to 30 additional licenses for retail sports betting subject to a competitive bidding process. A further 60 mobile-only licenses are also available, again through a selection process that will be overseen by SWARC.
Martin noted that Maryland’s legislation creates up to 107 potential licenses in total, compared with the 26 sportsbook skins currently live in Colorado, making it “the most comprehensive sports-wagering legislation in the country.”
“And that probably has its pros and cons,” he said.
In the absence of license-awards for operators, Martin said the MLGA has done as much as it can in terms of moving casinos through the process, including by licensing sports-betting partners, vendors and employees that are not subject to SWARC’s jurisdiction.
On another subject, Martin said Maryland’s gaming commission was also “very close” to finalizing sports-betting regulations and could do so in around 30 days following the conclusion of a recent public comment period.
The dual regulatory roles and sheer number of licenses are not the only layers of complexity slowing down the launch of legal sports betting in Maryland, Martin said.
State law is also unique in showing a clear preference for minority and women-owned businesses to have genuine stakes in Maryland’s sports-betting industry, which will be a key criteria in the review of any applications for retail and mobile licenses.
He cautioned that some local entities or online operators seeking to enter the market may not be used to the intensive background scrutiny that comes with obtaining a state gaming license.
At the same time, there are some stakeholders advocating for a uniform launch date for all licensees for mobile sports wagering, meaning those operators more accustomed to a gaming licensing process may have to wait.
“That will add more time to the process if we choose to go that route,” Martin said.
It is a very different story in Arizona, where both online and retail betting launched in early September within 147 days of enactment of a state law passed in April.
Joining Martin on the VIXIO webinar, Arizona Department of Gaming executive director Ted Vogt credited the speedy launch to the flexibility afforded to regulators in the legislation and an ability to adopt rules on an expedited basis, combined with a robust dialogue with prospective operators throughout the summer.
“It was aggressive but we were very well organized,” Vogt said.
The Arizona market has seen nine of 18 initial licensees go live since September and Vogt said that regulators are working with the others so they can all launch within the mandatory 180-day window required under state regulations.
The first licenses for limited sports betting at racetracks and off-track betting locations could also be awarded in December, he added.
Louisiana Gaming Control Board chairman Ronnie Johns oversaw the launch of retail sports betting in his state last month, with eight casinos currently licensed for sports wagering and five more applications pending.
Applications are expected from the state’s seven additional casinos and racinos before the end of the year, Johns told webinar attendees.
Mobile sports betting in Louisiana is complicated by the fact that bets can only be offered in 55 of 64 parishes, after voters in nine parishes rejected sports wagering in a November 2020 referendum.
Still, Johns said he hoped mobile sports betting would be launched early in the new year.
“I set January 2022 as the goal, but it could be March 2022 when it all rolls out,” he said.