Sports Betting Hearing Debates If Maryland Needs More Sportsbook Licenses

Posted on March 25, 2021

If Maryland wants to reach its goal of minority inclusion in sports betting licensees, some argue the state needs to increase the number of available mobile wagering licenses.

The Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee took its first crack Thursday at H 940, the sports betting bill passed by the House two weeks ago.

Adrienne A. Jones, the first African American and the first woman to hold the position of House Speaker in Maryland, took over sponsorship of the legislation.

In introducing the bill to the Senate committee, she expressed the belief that it maximizes the opportunity for minority businesses to meaningfully participate both in equity ownership and procurement contracts in this new state-created industry.

Some at the hearing called the bill the most inclusive sports betting language in the nation. But others testified that the legislation falls short.

The argument for more mobile licenses

The bill as passed by the House assigns Class A retail licenses to 12 Maryland entities. These go to:

  • Six Maryland casinos: MGM National Harbor, Horseshoe Casino, Live! Casino and Hotel, Ocean Downs, Rocky Gap Casino Resort, Hollywood Casino.
  • Three racetracks: Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park/Timonium (sharing a license).
  • Three sports teams: Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens, and Washington Football Team.
  • The off-track betting parlor Riverboat on the Potomac.

Ten Class B retail licenses provide an opportunity for smaller businesses. The bill creates a Sports Wagering Application Review Commission with instructions to ensure the participation of minority-owned businesses.

A House committee increased standalone mobile licenses from 10 to 15, which House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke admitted was to increase the opportunity for minority participation.

Malik Edwards expressed concerns that the 12 Class A licensees will take 12 of those 15 mobile licenses. This would leave Maryland’s minority-owned businesses fighting national casino conglomerates for three licenses. Edwards co-owns Bet on Black LLC, a Maryland-based minority-owned company seeking a sports betting license.

“Given everyone’s stated goal of minority inclusion, it appears the best option for minority equity inclusion is pursuing the mobile license. With only three mobile licenses available, you run a big risk of not having any minority equity inclusion on this.”

Solution for Maryland sports betting equity concerns

Edwards proposed increasing the available mobile licenses to at least 22. That total represents the number of Class A and Class B licenses combined.

John Pappas, representing iDEA Growth, echoed Edwards’ sentiments:

“House Bill 940 emphasizes providing opportunities for Maryland’s minority and women-owned businesses to be part of the sports betting industry. This laudable goal can only be achieved when these groups can be part of the fastest-growing segment of the industry – mobile sports betting.”

Other issues brought up at Maryland hearing

Brian Hess, executive director of Sports Fans Coalition, contended that the bill does not include enough consumer protections.

He noted that neighboring Virginia included the Coalition’s “Sports Betting Bill of Rights” in its sports betting bill. The language centers around integrity, transparency, data privacy and security, self-exclusion, protection of the vulnerable, and recourse.

He added that Virginia allotted 2% of sports betting revenue to a problem gambling fund. Maryland dedicates any proceeds from winning wagers that go unclaimed after 182 days to the problem gambling fund.

“The bill before you today has almost none of these protections,” Hess said. “Other than an age limit of 21 and self-exclusion, consumers and those at risk of gambling disorder or gambling addiction are ignored. People of color especially are almost twice as likely to fall victim to disorder gambling than their white counterparts.”

Lobbyist Bruce Bereano argued that all off-track betting parlors should be treated equally. Right now, the bill singles out Riverboat on the Potomac as the only OTB to automatically get a license.

Other OTBs may apply for Class B licenses. Bereano requested that all OTBs have a retail license.

Committee chair Guy Guzzone concluded the hearing saying the committee would get working on the bill as soon as possible.

Photo by Montree Imnam | Dreamstime.com
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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