Senate Committee Set To Hear House Online Casino Bill Tuesday

Written By Steve Schult on March 23, 2024 - Last Updated on March 25, 2024
A public hearing picture for a story about a Senate hearing about the House online casino bill

On Tuesday, a Maryland Senate committee will discuss the House version of an online casino bill.

The Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will hear testimony regarding HB 1319 at its next meeting. It’s the second time they’ve discussed a state gaming expansion to include Maryland online casinos after they discussed a similar Senate bill last month.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary sponsored and authored the bill. She will attend the hearing to talk about the details and answer questions from committee members.

Senate represents big hurdle for legislation

The House passed the bill just in the nick of time. They passed it just two days before the March 18 crossover deadline.

The bill was sent to the Senate, where the Budget and Taxation Committee will first examine it. However, this was the same committee that killed the Senate version of an online casino bill.

The committee heard Sen. Ron Watson’s online casino legislation but never took a formal vote on it. As a result, the bill never got to another committee, let alone a Senate floor vote.

Watson told the committee killed the bill because they already had a balanced budget for the year.

If his statements are accurate, getting past this committee will be an incredibly tough task for Atterbeary’s legislation. On the other hand, convincing the committee to move the bill forward would paint an incredibly bright future for it.

Expect cannibalization talks to dominate hearing

Three topics dominated the bill’s discussion during the House and Senate hearings last month.

  • Cannibalization/Brick-and-mortar job loss
  • Problem gambling measures
  • Tax rates

Of the three, the most vocal opponents to the bill were the ones who were worried about online casino expansion coming at the cost of jobs from the brick-and-mortar venues.

For example, only four of the six Maryland casinos even support the expansion. Representatives of Live! Casino & Hotel and Ocean Downs Casino told lawmakers that online casinos were bad for the state. However, ownership groups of both properties operate online casinos in Pennsylvania.

Their main argument against the legislation was that it would hurt the brick-and-mortar industry, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs for Marylanders.

The problem with this debate is that studies say both sides are right. A recent study from Eilers & Krejcik said that online casino expansion wouldn’t hurt Maryland casinos. But a NERA study said it would cost the brick-and-mortar venues revenue and jobs.

As a result, it didn’t appear that anyone at the House or Senate hearings changed their mind on the issue.

Voters will have last say

Even if the bill passes the committee, the Senate as a whole, and Gov. Wes Moore signs it, it still needs to be passed by the Maryland voters.

Atterbeary’s bill makes the issue a ballot initiative, which keeps in line with state law dictating that gambling expansion must be approved at the polls.

Thus, Maryland couldn’t begin building a detailed regulatory framework until 2025 if the bill is passed. It makes the summer of 2025 the earliest launch date for the online casino industry.

Photo by PlayMaryland
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Steve Schult

Steve Schult has covered the gambling world for the last decade. With stints as a staff writer for the World Series of Poker and Bluff Magazine, as well as the online content manager for Card Player Media, the New York native covered high-stakes poker tournaments and the overall casino industry. He’ll shift most of his focus to the Virginia, Maryland and Florida markets as a managing editor for Catena Media.

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