Allowing bars to participate in sports betting may be the solution to Maryland’s inclusion issues.
Del. Eric Ebersole told PlayMaryland that lawmakers are strongly considering letting bars obtain sports betting licenses.
“Certainly casinos are set up to do brick-and-mortar sports wagering, but there are other venues that can handle brick-and-mortar betting,” Ebersole said. “We’re still putting it together and nothing has been decided. But everything we’re looking at are ways of accomplishing our goals of having sports wagering and making sure ownership reflects the population of the state in terms of diversity.”
Maryland voters approved legalizing sports betting by nearly a two-to-one margin in November.
Last year, lawmakers tried to include implementation language in the ballot question. However, those efforts were derailed when the Legislative Black Caucus objected to all the sports betting licenses going to businesses without minority ownership.
Issues with Maryland sports betting bill
In a year known for the advances of the Black Lives Matter movement, Maryland was ahead of the game.
In March 2020, the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus protested when legislators tried to move a bill limiting sports betting to Maryland casinos, racetracks and facilities for the Washington Football Team.
On the surface, those made sense as the sports betting licensees. The existing gaming establishments are logical venues for the gambling expansion. And an increasing number of states are looking at having sports betting at the stadiums and arenas where sports occur.
But the Legislative Black Caucus already disapproved of a lack of diversity in the state’s gaming industry. Former Del. Nick Mosby told me last year that assigning sports wagering licenses to businesses where minorities aren’t represented ensures sports betting never has any type of diversity in Maryland.
Lawmakers tried to address those concerns last year. They allocated 5% of the tax revenue collected from sports wagering to the state’s Minority Business Enterprise Program. Ebersole now sees that isn’t enough.
“The idea is we don’t want to just have more money for other minority businesses, we want some literally participating here,” Ebersole said.
Crafting an inclusive sports betting bill
The sports betting voter referendum bill passed by Maryland last year ordered the Maryland State Lottery & Gaming Control Agency to commission a disparity study on the gaming industry.
Ebersole said the study showed that the complaints of the Legislative Black Caucus were well-founded.
“The disparity study told us what we thought,” Ebersole said. “That we need to come up with a system that allows for minority groups to also get their toe in the door on this. If we strictly went with casinos and racetracks, we’re stuck with not a very diverse ownership.”
Ebersole expects there to be one consensus bill in Maryland. He is working on the language with Del. Edith Patterson, chair of the Subcommittee on Racing and Gaming, and Del. Darryl Barnes, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. They have support from the House speaker and Senate president.
Maryland’s legislative session goes to April 12. Ebersole believes Maryland will have sports betting up and running by the start of the NFL season.
“We’re crafting language to go into a bill that will be for implementation,” Ebersole said. “I think there’s an expectation that if we get it right, and I think we will, that we’ll be able to pass it this year. It’s a little more difficult meeting mostly remotely, but I think we’ll be successful with it.”
Washington DC allows bars to have sports betting
Neighboring Washington DC became the first US jurisdiction to legalize sports betting kiosks at bars in 2019.
The nation’s capital created “Class B” licenses allowing bars, restaurants, hotels and convenience stores to have sports betting kiosks or a mobile app.
However, the DC Office of Lottery and Gaming has yet to authorize any bars to commence wagering, perhaps delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
That said, the gambit has created diversity in DC sports betting applicants. Shane August, a former Norfolk State University quarterback and local businessman, applied for a license for his bar Handle 19. He also applied for a sports betting license in Virginia, and likely would in Maryland.
Montana is the only state that allows bars to participate directly in sports betting.