MD Regulator Says Launching Online Sportsbooks Could Take Another Year

Posted on October 20, 2021 - Last Updated on February 18, 2022

If you’ve been traveling out of state to bet on sporting events legally online, you might want to get a credit card that gives you the maximum benefits on gas purchases. The Maryland sports betting launch process has hit another snag.

It’s really anyone’s guess as to when the gears might start churning again. One prominent regulator has expressed a belief that online sportsbooks might not go live in MD for another year.

Even on the retail side, there’s little clarity right now.

The latest Maryland sports betting launch delay

Everything seemed to be moving along, perhaps at a pace slower than some like MD Gov. Larry Hogan would have liked, but there was recent progress. The MD Lottery and Gaming Control Commission approved three licenses for in-person wagering earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the public comment period on the state’s emergency rules for sports betting has closed. The next step in that process – which is integral to allowing licensees to actually start taking bets – is for state regulators to review the feedback and decide on which if any adjustments it will make to the regs.

It appeared that the MD Sports Wagering Application Review Commission was set to concur with the MLGCC on licenses for three MD casinos in a meeting originally set for Oct. 14. The SWARC had announced it would judge applications by the same criteria.

Then, all of a sudden, the meeting was off. All public activity on the matter of either reviewing public comments on the rules or considering license applications is at a standstill. What happened? Well, reading that situation is akin to picking the crab with the bluest shell while blindfolded.

Reconciling statutory intent with regulatory reality

The law that enabled the latest gambling expansion in MD, legalized sports betting, had some clear directives. Among those were that the licensing process is to give preference to applicants who can demonstrate minorities and women have an interest in the company.

The law also lays out a system intended to give small businesses in MD a path to take part in the nascent industry. For example, there are four classes of licenses, two of which are specifically created for smaller businesses with lower application and renewal fees.

It’s now on regulators to figure out exactly how to turn the state’s principles into actual practice. Among the ideas is tying the awarding of licenses to accept bets online directly to those Class B licenses.

It’s unclear how many competing frameworks there are or how divided regulatory bodies are on the subject. However, this is the leading explanation for why the process has ground to a halt. There’s no clear sign of when that halt might subside, either.

Martin prepares public for the worst

Last week, MD Lottery and Gaming Control Agency Director John Martin said getting online sportsbooks up and running in MD could take up to another year. That’s in line with a comment from an unnamed source who called the start of the 2022 NFL season a realistic timeline for mobile NFL betting in Maryland.

It hasn’t been uncommon for online sportsbooks to launch after their retail counterparts in other jurisdictions. It’s simply easier to get brick-and-mortar operations up to snuff. However, until regulators resume public activity, even that’s on hold.

The perhaps only silver lining is the delay gives casinos and other businesses time to get their infrastructure ready. That way, whenever licensure does come, they can “flip the switch.” For now, though, everything is running dark.

Photo by Dreamsite / Katarzyna Bialasiewicz
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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