The Republican and Democratic nominees for Maryland governor both have reservations and concerns about the rollout of legal online sports betting in the state.
Maryland regulators ultimately may be in the driver’s seat, but that didn’t stop each nominee from voicing their concerns about the new industry.
Gov. nominees have reservations about Maryland sports betting
As with most issues, GOP nominee Dan Cox and Democratic nominee Wes Moore hold vastly different views on Maryland sports betting.
Cox, a state delegate representing Carroll and Frederick counties, was one of the few state legislators who voted against a bill in spring 2021 that set forth the legal framework for sports betting.
Moore, on the other hand, has no moral issues with gambling. His chief concern, however, lies in ensuring what he calls an “equitable rollout” in the state.
Maryland casinos debuted in-person wagering in December 2021, more than a year after voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution to allow for sports wagering. The entire process has been rather slow, however, with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signing legislation into law in May 2021.
Since then, the launch of mobile sports betting has been delayed by a requirement that a study be completed about the casino industry’s minority diversity in ownership and other aspects.
That study — completed last month — is meant to guide regulators on developing appropriate diversity requirements for applicants of the 60 available licenses. The state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission finally opened its portal for applications and its public comment period this month.
In separate interviews with PlayMaryland, Cox and Moore offered their thoughts and concerns.
Cox opposes NCAA gambling, eager for tax revenue
Cox, a well-known religious conservative, originally opposed the expansion of the casino industry at all in the Old Line State. Now that it’s happened, though, he said it’s time for Maryland to start benefiting from the bump in tax revenue proponents promised.
“The Legislature, of which I’m a member, passed these options into state law, and we’re still not collecting taxes on it,” Cox said. “I’ve heard that these issues are ongoing, but we fought very hard to address those issues already.”
Now, Cox has two big concerns. The first is how gambling tax revenue is allotted. He said, as governor, he’d dig into what’s become of the money and make sure it’s spent properly.
“I would strongly support making sure the state laws followed with regard to obtaining this revenue. Casino revenue was supposed to be going to a lockbox for education in large part and yet we don’t see the transparency or the funding necessarily, like we should. I’d like to get to the bottom of that. I would certainly, as governor, be ensuring state laws are followed.”
His second — and more personal — concern is about the potential impact mobile sports betting may have on student-athletes.
“I’m a former NCAA Division I decathlete so I look at it from a perspective of how will this impact our young people in college?” the University of Maryland alumnus said. “The concern there is that young people are no longer able to focus on the joy of competition in an amateur way. All of a sudden, it becomes a commercialization that can be overburdening or distracting from the purpose.”
“I certainly want to make sure that the revenue is coming to the state, I do think we need to look at how this works out in the colleges and make sure that our kids are safe. It’s very unfortunate that they batched professional and college sports together into the same process.”
He acknowledged the 2020 amendment to the state constitution does not leave the governor with any real options for curtailing gambling on college sports.
Moore aims to ensure casino-industry diversity
Democratic nominee Moore, who, if elected, would be the state’s first Black governor, believes the delays in rolling out license applications were warranted.
“No matter what bill is going to come to my desk should I be the governor, equity is going to be the focal point, making sure that we are doing things equitably and fairly in the state of Maryland.”
The process for awarding gambling licenses is likely similar to how the state will approach another controversial industry expected to arrive under the next governor: recreational cannabis. Marylanders will vote on Question 4, which would legalize non-medicinal pot, on the November ballot.
“Whether you’re talking about online sports betting, whether you’re talking about crypto, whether you’re talking to cannabis, you got all these new industries that are then coming on board that are presenting new opportunities for Marylanders to be able to participate,” he says. “We just want to make sure that as part of the leave no one behind the agenda, we’re asking tough questions and ensuring that everybody is going to be at the table.”
Moore, who is the former CEO of the anti-poverty nonprofit the Robin Hood Foundation, said his administration will keep “a particularly watchful eye” over whether underprivileged communities are adversely impacted by the expansion of gambling:
“It’s important to have guardrails on these things so we don’t watch unintended consequences happen to communities that oftentimes that have historically been left behind.”
Moore seen as prohibitive favorite to win
Most prognosticators see Moore, 43, as a safe bet to beat Cox, 48. Cox beat out a more moderate Republican in the GOP primary thanks to an endorsement by former President Donald Trump. Cox is anti-abortion and asserts that widespread fraud tilted the 2020 presidential election. The state’s current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, has declined to endorse Cox.
On a similar note, POLITICO’s chief election reporter Steve Shepard writes that Cox’s “extreme positions and association with the former president probably make him unelectable in Maryland.”