In passing enabling legislation for sports betting in Maryland, lawmakers set a goal for retail sportsbooks to open by the beginning of the NFL season. But how about online sports betting?
The Maryland bill lays out language for the mobile license selection process that is more complicated than that of any other state in the nation. That makes it seem like Marylanders could be waiting a while to place bets on their phones.
But Maryland Sen. Craig Zucker scoffs at the notion that online could take a year longer to get up than retail. The lawmaker who led the Senate sports betting efforts tells PlayMaryland he expects mobile apps this year.
“Getting mobile up and running before the end of 2021 is the hope,” Zucker said. “I’m an optimist in that I think we’re going to have sports betting up and running in the fall and mobile soon after.”
Commission has work to do before awarding mobile licenses
The Maryland bill creates the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) to adopt regulations prior to issuing mobile licenses. First, SWARC needs to analyze disparity studies conducted on the Maryland gambling industry to determine what, if any, remedial measures to take to ensure minority participation.
In most states, casinos already licensed to offer gaming in the state are prepared to get these licenses. The parent companies are approved to offer sports betting in other states, so they come with pre-existing internal controls and partnerships with online sports betting operators.
Language in H 940 also instructs SWARC to consider allowing early access to the mobile sports wagering market to entities that form minority partnerships with minority- and women-owned businesses.
So it seems likely that, to go live in 2021, a DraftKings Sportsbook or FanDuel Sportsbook in Maryland would need to make some sort of deal with a small business that has no experience offering sports betting, even though the major operators can apply for stand-alone mobile licenses.
“For those who don’t partner, after a year they would be able to get into the market,” Zucker said. “There’s a lot of opportunity within the mobile space for online operators to partner with multiple MBEs, which I think will be a big win for everybody.”
Zucker said he didn’t know if all 60 mobile licenses will be filled. But they wanted to give small businesses the opportunity to fill them.
“We believe that the free market will take care of itself,” Zucker said. “We just wanted to provide opportunities for those businesses that want to get into the marketplace, especially small, minority- and women-owned businesses, but also those already established. … More competition only serves to better benefit the state of Maryland.”
Class B applicants also could take longer to get licenses
The first sports betting operations could launch at casinos and sports facilities by the beginning of the NFL season. However, Zucker expects smaller Class B licensees to target the end of the season.
“They’re going to have to go through the process for background checks,” Zucker said. “But my sense is, for a number of them, they should hopefully be up and running by the Super Bowl.”
The bill names some off-track betting parlors and bingo halls that will get Class B licenses. They might be able to get sports wagering going quicker. But the 30 additional Class B licenses are wide open and likely will take longer to select. SWARC must consider their ownership makeup and if they are located in opportunity or enterprise zones.
Zucker said he expects bars, restaurants and minor league facilities to apply for these competitive Class B licenses. But lawmakers also wanted to leave room for businesses that hadn’t been in Annapolis advocating for sports betting.
“The bottom line is we wanted to make sure everyone who is interested has an opportunity to get in the marketplace,” Zucker said.
Next steps for Maryland sports betting
According to Maryland procedure, bills must reach the governor within 20 days of the session’s adjournment. Then the governor has 30 days to sign a bill. That puts the deadline around the end of May. However, Zucker expects Gov. Larry Hogan to sign it within the next couple of weeks.
Zucker tagged H 940 as an emergency measure, which means the law goes into effect immediately upon approval from the governor. Then the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission and SWARC can get to work. Otherwise, they would have had to wait until June 1.
Maryland’s sports betting bill is a model for inclusivity. However, it could also prove to be an example of how too much inclusion bogs down a sports betting market if it is not done right.
Zucker is proud of how the Senate and House came together to work out the bill details following last November’s approval of sports wagering by voters.
“The whole thing was going to be collaborative from the start,” Zucker said. “This really was important to both chambers to ensure that the state of Maryland is competitive with neighboring states, ensure the children’s educational future, and seeing minority- and women-owned business participation. We said from the start that we were going to get this done. Marylanders asked for it, and we delivered.”