Gaming Regulator: 2021 Is Lost Cause For MD Sports Betting’s Retail Launch

Posted on November 9, 2021

Earlier this year, regulators presented the start of the 2021 NFL season as a target date to launch Maryland sportsbooks. That’s long gone, and now, 2021 is no longer feasible for the commencement of MD sports betting.

A prominent gambling regulator for the state says that while activity is ongoing, the earliest Marylanders will likely be able to place legal bets without leaving the Old Line State is January.

Even then, the availability will probably be far from ideal.

Maryland sportsbooks likely won’t see any action in 2021

MD Lottery & Gaming Control Agency Director John Martin is the authority in the state when it comes to gaming regulations. He recently gave an update on the rollout of legal sportsbooks in MD to Pat Evans of Legal Sports Report.

“We’re obviously disappointed by the lack of progress in yesterday’s SWARC meeting, but we’re pleased that we’ve moved forward in other areas,” Martin said. “At this point, we are hoping to make the NFL playoffs in January and the Super Bowl in February.”

Martin referred to last week’s decision by the MD Sports Wagering Application Review Commission to request supplemental ownership information from five license applicants up for approval. Interested parties expected the SWARC to approve the licenses at the meeting.

The applicants are five of the six casinos in Maryland with Rocky Gap Casino Resort as the outlier. The licenses all have preliminary approval from the MD Lottery & Gaming Control Commission.

The SWARC set its next meeting for Nov. 18. It could approve the licenses on that date. Even if that’s the case, though, that will be too late for the five retail sportsbooks to launch this year.

Best-case scenario is now early January

In MD, sports bettors might break out into choruses of “Auld Lang Syne” as they wait in line to place their first legal bets. It could take up to 45 days after SWARC license approval to get the first brick-and-mortar sportsbooks up and running.

That’s because there are still several steps necessary between licensure and launch. Those include vetting personnel and testing systems. For the most part, the five casinos are wrapping up their work to get the physical spaces ready. That’s encouraged Martin.

“We’re making progress on as much of this as we can now,” Martin said. “If the SWARC awards the licenses on Nov. 18 and all goes well, that would mean a launch date somewhere around the first of the year.”

Among that progress is the preliminary approval for other gaming facilities in the state, like the Riverboat on the Potomac. Martin did not share any specific updates on the progress of any other applications.

That includes the entire library of licenses for online wagering. At this point, mobile betting is kind of a non-starter issue with regulators who are focused on getting the retail operations live as soon as possible.

S0 what does that mean for online sports betting in MD?

At this point, it’s hard to read. Martin was also the one who said that getting online Maryland sportsbooks live could take several more months. His opinion has more weight than just about anyone else’s in this regard, and he suggested the start of the 2022 NFL season isn’t unrealistic.

It isn’t clear how much correlation there will be between getting the first brick-and-mortar sportsbooks working and moving forward on mobile platforms. While it’s theoretically possible for regulators to “walk and chew gum” in this regard, the delays don’t inspire confidence.

It’s entirely possible that regulators will shelve online action completely until they feel they’ve reached the fulfillment of their duties to retail operators. If that’s the case, September 2022 looks more likely than not.

Marylanders who had hopes of placing legal bets with their holiday gift money might have to wait at least a week to do so. Even then, they’ll probably have to visit one of the five casinos pending licensure in the state.

Photo by Shutterstock / Brian A Jackson
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