Since launching retail sports betting five months ago, it’s been rough for Maryland sports bettors.
In December 2021, the first month of legal sports wagering, casinos held on to 19.2% of the handle, the total amount wagered. In April, that number dipped to 10.5%, with the total hold percentage for the fiscal year sitting at 11.5%.
Now, it’s not exactly a fair comparison considering sports betting was live for just a portion of December at the five retail sportsbooks in the state. It was also the beginning of something new; we should allow new bettors time to get acclimated.
The good news: Things appear to be moving in the right direction. The collective casino hold has gone down nearly every month since the inception of retail sports betting in December.
Is that due to Maryland bettors getting smarter? Or are they just getting luckier, especially during larger betting events like the Super Bowl?
Whether it’s one or the other or both, the state’s hold on the total handle continues to slide slightly. But is that a trend that will continue?
Laying out the numbers
Let’s break down how bettors in the Old Line State have fared since December’s launch.
|Month||Handle||Prizes Paid||Hold %|
The 11.5% hold percentage in Maryland shown above sits among the country’s highest. It is the fourth-worst mark among 25 states where sports betting is legalized in some fashion. Only Arkansas, Delaware and Montana boast higher holds. (Washington D.C. is also worse at 12.7%.)
For further reference, the national average is just 7%. This leaves Old Line State bettors to be losing 4.5% more of their wagers to sportsbooks relative to their national counterparts since December’s launch.
While the numbers above paint the picture that Maryland bettors could be better, we should also cut them some slack. As is the case with all sports betting, and gambling in general, there’s a bit of randomness involved. Additionally, these trends are less than a half-year-old. A bigger sample size might change the tune.
Finally, while the hold is one of the country’s highest, it includes futures bets that have not been settled yet. The sportsbooks have taken in the money, but there’s still potential for bettors to earn it back, depending on how certain events shake out, including the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals in June.
February success may have been just a Super Bowl blip
The anomaly in the chart above is February when every Maryland casino outside of Ocean Downs sat below 6% hold. At 3.7% collectively, February’s hold was lower than the monthly national average between 5% and 7%. It was also lower than the 4.8% national February hold.
Many will point to the Super Bowl as reasoning why. While the annual event was thought to bring in more handle, it’s also likely the reason the drop in hold took place.
Casual bettors flooding the market tend to bet in the same direction. It leaves the sportsbooks overexposed to one side of the bet. Furthermore, many public bettors won’t be tempted to take the other side as bookmakers adjust the point spread and odds.
Without seeing any real data for this year’s Super Bowl, much of the Maryland market may have bet on the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati lost to the Los Angeles Rams 23-20, but the 3-point loss was good enough to cover the spread.
The spread was typically either 4 or 4.5 points, depending on the sportsbook. Either way, Bengals bettors got the payout. Gamblers who bet on the Rams could only win with a moneyline wager, which is generally less popular among bettors.
What about mobile sports betting?
One of the biggest gripes among Maryland bettors has been that the state didn’t universally launch with mobile options. While the Old Line State isn’t unique in that regard — states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois all launched retail before mobile — it hasn’t simmered the frustration felt.
The Old Line State has been putting off the launch of online sports wagering as it conducts a disparity survey. The survey is aimed at deciding if anything should be done to increase the participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in the industry.
The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission has had no update on where the survey is in the process during its last two meetings.
Online sports betting could lower Maryland casino hold
While frustrating to bettors, there’s reason to believe that once online sports betting is live, their wallets may benefit. Just look at the other states who also didn’t launch universally.
Let’s take nearby Pennsylvania for example. The Keystone State launched its retail operations in November 2018. Mobile sports betting wasn’t available until May the following year.
From December 2018 (the first full month of retail) through April 2019 (the last month before online went live), Pennsylvania brought in nearly $161 million in total handle. Of that, sportsbooks in the state held on to 10.1%.
In December 2019 alone, with mobile sports betting operational, the state saw more money wagered online ($297.4 million) than in the entire five-month span above. The same goes for January ($308.6 million) and February ($294.1 million).
The hold percentages in those months were 5.1%, 9.1% and 3.5%, respectively. In fact, since March 2020, Pennsylvania has seen a collective hold of over 10% just twice (10.1% in June 2021 and 11.2% in November 2021).
Because of this, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the handle skyrocket and the hold continue to decrease once mobile is live in Maryland. That’s not even taking into account the sign-up promotions and other in-app freebies that are far more plentiful than what’s given away at retail sportsbooks.
Wait continues for Maryland bettors
When online sports betting will come to Maryland, however, is still to be determined. In addition to the non-updates at the latest SWARC meeting, there have even been reports mobile sportsbooks won’t launch in Maryland until after the Super Bowl … in 2023.
Until then, it wouldn’t come as a shock if Maryland sportsbooks continue to maintain a steady hold of over 10%.