Senate Bill 267 would have made online casinos legal in Maryland. Unfortunately, “Crossover Day” came and went this week without the measure moving over to the House side of the General Assembly. It could still pass in this session of the General Assembly, but it must get over an additional hurdle before being introduced in the House.
Co-sponsor of the measure, Sen. Ron Watson, is confident his measure, also sponsored by Sen. Nancy King, will pass in 2024 if it fails to get through the House by the end of the session, which is April 10.
SB 267 creates a ballot referendum on online casinos
For now, Maryland online casinos consist of only sweepstakes and social online gaming. While the games are similar to slots and table games found at brick-and-mortar casinos, no real money is wagered.
After online sports betting launched in November 2022, the push to legalize online casinos began in Maryland. That effort became SB 267, which would place a referendum on the 2024 ballot.
In January, Watson shared his practical motivation for the bill with PlayMaryland.
“People are already playing online, so why not legalize and regulate it?”
Popping the hood on SB 267
SB 267 would legalize online casino gambling and online poker, which are both illegal in the state. As with Maryland online sports betting, the bill calls for the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency to issue licenses and regulate the industry.
When Watson proposed SB 267, he claimed that online casinos could generate somewhere in the realm of $100 million in annual tax revenue for the state.
“Especially now that folks have started to see the revenue we can get from sports betting, I think we’re past the point of hesitation and we’ve realized that casinos are so valuable to our economy here in Maryland. If we had to endure another pandemic and sports shut down, we would have zero money generated from our existing casinos and that would be a shame. But if we can put in place online gaming, we’ll have another revenue stream that can fund our aggressive efforts to improve our education system in Maryland.”
Tax rate would be 15%
In addition to a 15% tax rate on online casinos, SB 267 sets a five-year licensing fee at $500,000. A license renewal fee would be 1% of average annual proceeds from the previous three years.
Bonus play and promotional deductions would be allowed under SB 267. Tax revenue to the state would go to the Education Trust Fund minus regulatory expenses, Watson said.
“This is the current design. I looked at other states to try to come up with a framework our bill drafters could codify.”
Online poker excites Watson
It would also make online poker legal in the state. Watson is an avid poker player.
“I love casinos, but I am a longtime poker player. When I say I’m into poker, I’m really into poker. I played at the World Series of Poker, not the big game but some of the smaller events. I’m glad to take the lead on this having played poker for so many years.”
SB 267 will encourage minorities
One of the key aspects Watson wants in SB 267 is to specifically focus on minorities so that everyone will have an equal chance of profiting from the legislation.
“I’m a member of the legislative black caucus, the largest legislative black caucus in the country. Through that black caucus, we made sure minorities were represented in sports betting. So this would be no different. I would work with other colleagues in the black caucus in the Senate and House to figure out the most equitable way to do this so everybody can profit.”
Governor should support measure, Watson says
Watson said he believes he can get newly elected Gov. Wes Moore on board.
“He’s very open to new forms of revenue streams, so I look forward to working with him to see if we can make this bill a reality. It will benefit not just poker players but those who can’t afford to go to a casino and would love to sit in the privacy of their own house and play some of these games.”
Optimism remains high on passage despite setback
While Watson’s plans have been slowed, his faith in the bill remains unshaken. The state senator is already looking to next year’s legislative session.
“I’m very confident that we’ll have something that we can pass by next year. We have plenty of time to work it out. In some cases like this, we may form a summer study group to hammer out the details, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have something next year ready to roll.”
When a bill fails to move into the opposite chamber, it is referred to rules committees for further debate. That not only increases the time it takes to pass a bill, it also increases its chances of being killed.
Even if SB 267 makes it onto the 2024 ballot, online casinos would not be available to players until 2025 or later.