It will be a while before real action is taken on the legalization of online casinos in Maryland. But for now, there’s plenty of talk.
The Morgan State University Center for Data Analytics and Sports Gaming Research hosted a panel discussion last week. It contained a mixture of current and past legislators with stakeholders and gaming experts to discuss the feasibility of online casino gaming in Maryland.
All panel members seemed to agree that it’s just a matter of time before online casinos are legal in Maryland.
Currently, 7 states have made online casinos legal
Retail sports betting started in Maryland in December 2021, with online sports betting commencing a year later. There are six retail casinos operating currently in the state, while Maryland online casinos remain illegal.
For the uninitiated, online casino gaming is often referred to as iGaming. It means the ability to play casino games online on your devices, like poker, slot machines and table games, through regulated sites run by licensed operators.
Currently, seven states have legalized online casino gaming; six are active. The revenue from online casino gaming can be a tremendous boon for state treasuries.
The biggest fear of officials is that opening up the online casino space in Maryland will spark a rise in problem gaming. They’re also worried that it could take money from retail casinos.
Panel discusses safeguards to aid problem gamblers
For two hours, the panel talked about the possibilities of adding online casinos in Maryland. They agreed that Maryland has to roll it out in an intelligent manner. Officials must be proactive to create the safest possible environment.
The panel included:
- Maryland Del. Edith Patterson, chair of the Racing and Gaming Subcommittee
- Former state Del. Darryl Barnes
- Former Michigan state Rep. Brandt Iden (now a Fanatics executive)
- Robert Ruben, leader of Gaming Industry group at Duane Morris LLP
- Christopher Adams, CEO of SharpRank, a Maryland-based gaming and regulatory tech company
- Former West Virginia legislator Shawn Fluharty
- John Pappas, senior vice president of government affairs at GeoComply
Fluharty helped his state put in the structure for sports betting and online casinos. His experience tells him that a well-regulated iGaming space creates a system that promotes responsible gambling.
Other states that have online casinos install mandatory tracking programs that warn a player when they have played too long. Players also have the ability to lock in betting and deposit amounts.
This won’t solve every problem, but it’s a start, Pappas said.
“You want to have as many customers gambling within their means as possible. No operator benefits from a problem gambler. That person is on your site for a very short time because either they’ve run out of money or they’ve come to a conclusion that they shouldn’t be gambling anymore.”
Pappas challenged the audience to google, “Can I play online poker in Maryland?” and see what came up. It’s a mix of confusing answers and links to unregulated sites.
In a world where Maryland is in control of the online gaming space, that confusion is eliminated and help can get to the people that need it, he said.
Show them the money
There are no public projections for how much money the state of Maryland could collect from legalizing online casinos, but it would probably be substantial, Fluharty said.
“It takes nearly three months of sports betting in West Virginia to raise enough revenue that we can do in one month with iGaming.”
One part of the conversation at Morgan State was that it is incumbent on the lawmakers to have a plan for what to do with the revenue. And be clear to the public the goals for extending gambling options.
How long before Maryland launches iGaming?
Previously, Becca Giden, director of policy for Eilers and Krejcik Gaming, identified Maryland as ripe for entering the online casino space due to many factors. They included existing political support, an active retail casino market with national brands and no organized opposition. Earlier this month she gave the Old Line State a 50/50 shot at legalizing online casinos in 2024.
Maryland state Sen. Ron Watson introduced an online casino bill during the 2023 legislative session, but it languished in committee. He is expected to introduce a similar bill when the General Assembly meets again in 2024. Any approved measure would have to be voted on by Maryland residents in November 2024.
The Maryland Lottery has commissioned think tank The Innovation Group to provide an iGaming feasibility study for the state and present its findings to the General Assembly this November.