Pending legislation in the Maryland General Assembly would require sportsbooks to audit their paid content creators and influencers. State Senators Craig Zucker and Shelly Hettleman are sponsoring SB 621, which would direct the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Agency to oversee the audit program.
One independent auditor sees the measure as a way to protect bettors in Maryland from potentially unreliable, nonfactual content.
Sportsbooks could face new audit requirements with new Maryland bill
Sports betting became legal in Maryland in November 2021. A year later, Maryland online sports betting launched. Bettors currently have 8 online sportsbooks to choose from, and four more sportsbooks should become operational in early 2023.
In addition to sportsbooks, a number of other moving parts make up the sports betting industry. And one of those most integral components is content creators.
Content creators — or influencers — produce reports, stories, posts and videos about betting and sports for current and potential sportsbook customers. They operate in traditional media and social media spaces to help people make informed decisions on sports betting.
Their top priority is to attract more customers to a particular sportsbook.
Maryland audit bill wording remains vague for now
The goal of SB 621 is simple, even if the process and wording are somewhat complicated. The state wants to make sure content creators and influencers being paid by regulated sportsbook operators follow certain ethical standards and properly serve Maryland bettors.
The bill is extremely vague, probably deliberately so. It reads:
“For the purpose of requiring the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission (sic) to identify and accredit certain independent evaluators to evaluate and rate certain sports wagering content provided by certain sports wagering experts, sports wagering influencers and content partners; requiring the Commission to establish standards of practice governing sports wagering content; requiring certain sports wagering licensees and sports wagering operators to contract with certain independent evaluators for certain purposes under certain circumstances; and generally relating to sports wagering and the evaluation of sports wagering content.”
Plenty of questions have yet to be resolved, such as exactly what these audits might entail or what a standard of practice could eventually look like. In the event the bill gains traction and receives further input, additional details and specifics will then be added.
For now, the bill remains in its beginning stages.
A similar bill to SB 621 is currently in the West Virginia Legislature. It also calls for sportsbooks to regularly audit content creators to ensure fairness and accuracy.
Auditor says legislation beneficial to Maryland sports betting
SharpRank Founder and Chief Executive Officer Chris Adams told SBC Americas that despite the bill’s specificity, he has ideas about what SB 621 might entail. SharpRank is an independent auditing company that could end up auditing these sportsbook content creators.
“I think the main thing that they are trying to do is institute some sort of auditing standards, disclosure requirements . . . I think this legislation specifically is focused on that audit side, which to me should look or could look no different than a financial statement and audit.”
Adams said the legislation is more about creating different standards of practice to sustain growth as opposed to stymying sportsbooks’ ability to market themselves.
Sportsbooks worry about audits hindering marketing efforts
Some sports betting operators are concerned about how this legislation could inhibit marketing schemes. When Adams spoke at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States about the issue, he responded to their concerns:
“The sense that I get is the goal is to sustain growth. It’s not to curb enterprise at all. I think that’s a big one just because, at the onset, it looks like this is some way to prevent or discourage growth by these sportsbooks and media properties. From what I can gather, I don’t believe that to be true at all. I think this is way more focused on trying to not repeat the mistakes that we’ve seen in more mature markets and create an actually more innovative US market because it’s fully secured with consumer protection.”
Ultimately, the execution of the audits will be up to state lawmakers and regulators. That being said, Adams believes a model exists that could be beneficial to all parties. He likened a possible audit system to Carfax. Carfax creates a baseline level of standards for the auto industry to meet and in no way hurts the marketing of cars for sale.
As written, the bill will impact content creators who work directly for sportsbooks or any of their associated affiliates. That means independent influencers would remain unvetted. Some claim that gives independent content creators the upper hand over sportsbooks. But Adams argues that verified information from influencers approved by auditors is going to be more trusted than independent influencers.
The Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will have a second hearing on SB 621 at 1 p.m. on March 8. Adams said he will be at the hearing.