Here Are The Differences Between Maryland’s 2 Online Casino Bills

Written By T.J. McBride on February 14, 2024 - Last Updated on February 15, 2024

State Sen. Ron Watson’s iGaming bill, Senate Bill 603, is no longer the only online casino bill being considered in Maryland.

Rep. Vanessa Atterbeary recently filed House Bill 1319 in the Maryland House of Delegates. Atterbeary is chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

SB 603 and HB 1319 are not companion bills. While they each would legalize Maryland online casinos, they have some distinct differences.

Online casino bills have some similarities

In many ways, the bills are similar.

Both propose a renewal fee that is equal to 1% of the average annual proceeds over the previous three years. Both bills allow operators to deduct promotion costs from their tax bill in the first year. After that, 20% of promotional costs can be written off.

Each bill also mandates that live dealer studios must be in Maryland but not on casino property. It will ensure that any jobs lost because of online casino gambling are offset with jobs being created.

Bills also have distinct differences

There are also differences between the two iGaming bills.

The House bill does not tether online casino licenses to existing casinos. The Senate bill does. SB 603 has a flat tax rate of 47% for electronic games and live dealer games. HB 1319 separates the tax rate, with electronic game revenue being taxed at 55% and live dealer games paying 20% in taxes.

The cost for a five-year license is $1 million in the House bill, but its Senate counterpart sets four-year licenses at the same amount.

One of the biggest differences between these bills is that the House bill requires operators to enter into an agreement with labor unions to avoid work stoppages during the first five years. There is no such language in SB 603.

HB 1319 dedicates tax dollars the same way as SB 603, with one exception. The House bill includes 1% of taxes for the local counties. Another 1% also goes to regulatory fees in addition to 1% going to address problem gambling in the state. The rest of the tax dollars from iGaming would go to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund, which makes money available for education.

There are several other differences

The differences do not stop there. HB 1319 includes more focus on diversity and inclusion.

  • 5% of licenses must be owned by individuals with a net worth that does not exceed an amount that is still to be determined. There is a workaround provided that states an applicant can establish a profit-sharing agreement with non-management employees who do not make more money than the amount that is still to be determined.
  • Any operators must produce a workforce development plan in regard to in-state job creation and a plan to create jobs for economically disadvantaged areas.
  • Any operator that is awarded a license is mandated to submit a diversity plan to the commission.

There are also more requirements for responsible gambling practices in the House bill.

  • Display: “If you or someone you known has a gambling problem and wants help, call 1-800-GAMBLER,” at log-on and log-off. A similar phrasing would be allowed if approved by the commission.
  • Create systems that allow players to self-limit money that can be deposited into their account.
  • Allow players to temporarily suspend their access to online gambling.

Voters will have the final say

It is hard to discern which of these bills has a better shot at making it onto the ballot in November.

Watson’s SB 603 was filed and heard first, but that does not inherently give it the edge. Atterbeary being the chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee gives her additional power throughout the process.

Watson and Atterbearly also have seemed willing to work together. Atterbeary invited Watson to hear the findings of a study done on online casinos. They could work together to create one bill to move forward with.

John Pappas, state advocacy director with iDEA Growth, told PlayMaryland sister site PlayUSA that he believes a consensus approach will emerge, but regardless, he is happy with the positive momentum.

“We are pleased momentum is building and that Chairwoman Atterbeary and Sen. Watson have taken lead roles to shape the policy with an emphasis on job creation and equitable participation. Lawmaking is a process, and I believe that a consensus approach will emerge that benefits consumers, the state and the industry.”

Next up for HB 1319 is a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 26. It was first read to the committee on Feb. 9.

Watson’s SB 603 and the internet gaming referendum SB 565 are both scheduled to be heard by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Feb. 28. The reason there are two bills being read is that SB 603 outlines what the online casino gambling bill would entail, while SB 565 calls for a voter referendum, which allows Maryland voters to have the final say.

Photo by PlayMaryland
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T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver, Colorado who covers the Denver Nuggets as a beat writer. His byline can be found across many websites such as ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report, and others.

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