Sen. Ron Watson On Maryland Legal Online Casinos & Potential Impact

Written By Alec Cunningham on January 26, 2023 - Last Updated on February 10, 2023
Senator Watson Legal Online Gambling

Maryland voters will have their say on internet gaming in the not-so-distant future. A new bill, introduced by Senators Ron Watson and Nancy King, wants to legalize online casinos for the benefit of state education programs.

Senator Watson sees Maryland online gambling less as a new form of entertainment for Marylanders and more as a new route for revenue in the state.

Watson raised the question:

“People are already playing online, so why not legalize and regulate it?”

Senator Watson explains the importance of Maryland online casinos

Watson expanded on his thoughts behind the new bill, SB 267, during an exclusive discussion with PlayUSA gambling analyst Matthew Kredell.

Watson said:

“Especially now that folks have started to see the revenue we can get from sports betting, I think we’re past the point of hesitation and we’ve realized that casinos are so valuable to our economy here in Maryland. If we had to endure another pandemic and sports shut down, we would have zero money generated from our existing casinos and that would be a shame. But if we can put in place online gaming, we’ll have another revenue stream that can fund our aggressive efforts to improve our education system in Maryland.”

Lawmakers nationwide have provided similar reasoning throughout their own journeys to gambling legalization.

Online casino bill specifics could fluctuate

Legislators have almost two years to finalize the bill, since the referendum will appear as a November 2024 ballot question.

Voters would side “yes” or “no” when asked:

“Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize Internet gaming for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”

Watson admitted that ultimately, some details could look different come launch day. He said:

“This is the current design. I looked at other states to try to come up with a framework our bill drafters could codify.”

As of now, Maryland online casino regulations would look something like this:

  • Regulated by the State Lottery and Gaming Commission
  • Initial five-year license fee of $500,000
  • License renewal fee equal to 1% of average annual proceeds from the previous three years
  • Online casino revenue taxed at 15%
  • Free play and promotional credit revenue deductions permitted when paying taxes
  • Education Trust Fund receives state tax revenue minus regulatory expenses
  • Multijurisdictional gaming agreements are permitted, when federally legal

Minority inclusion integral to bill

The bill would allow six Maryland casinos — referred to as video lottery facilities — to partake in online casino operations:

  • MGM National Harbor
  • Horseshoe Casino
  • Live! Casino and Hotel
  • Ocean Downs
  • Rocky Gap Casino Resort
  • Hollywood Casino

And although the bill points to these six specific casinos as Maryland’s video lottery terminals, Watson is making sure minorities remain fully served in the process as well. Watson said:

“I’m a member of the legislative black caucus, the largest legislative black caucus in the country. Through that black caucus, we made sure minorities were represented in sports betting. So this would be no different. I would work with other colleagues in the black caucus in the Senate and House to figure out the most equitable way to do this so everybody can profit.”

Online gambling bill aims to fund education initiatives

If Watson has his preference, minorities won’t be the only ones to benefit from iGaming legalization.

The primary purpose of legalizing online casino gambling, Watson said, is to generate supplemental income for Maryland education programs.

Next up, the bill visits the Senate Committee on Budget and Taxation for review.

Watson said he hopes to gain support from newly elected Gov. Wes Moore. He sees Moore, who recently broke ground himself by becoming the third black governor in national history, as an integral part of the legalization process. Watson reflected on Moore saying:

“He’s very open to new forms of revenue streams, so I look forward to working with him to see if we can make this bill a reality. It will benefit not just poker players but those who can’t afford to go to a casino and would love to sit in the privacy of their own house and play some of these games.”


Watson takes pride in leading Maryland’s online poker charge

For Watson, this isn’t just about the education initiatives, though. He’s got a personal stake in the matter as well.

“I love casinos but I am a long-time poker player. When I say I’m into poker, I’m really into poker. I played at the World Series of Poker, not the big game but some of the smaller events. I’m glad to take the lead on this having played poker for so many years.”

In-person poker has become a popular staple at Maryland casinos, with the Mid Atlantic Poker Open and the Potomac Winter Poker Open both currently underway at Live! Casino and MGM National Harbor respectively.

Now, poker has the chance to make even more of an impact in Maryland with its online counterpart.

Online casino legalization to undergo summer study

Watson is optimistic about his bill’s success come November 2024.

“I’m very confident that we’ll have something that we can pass by next year. We have plenty of time to work it out. In some cases like this we may form a summer study group to hammer out the details, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have something next year ready to roll.”

PlayUSA gambling expert Matthew Kredell shares Watson’s positive outlook on Maryland’s potential for legal online casinos.

Kredell noted:

“I don’t expect any movement in Maryland online casino legislation this year. But after a year of education and perhaps a summer study session, lawmakers will make a serious effort to pass a bill next year and put the issue of iGaming in front of Maryland voters.”

Traditionally, Maryland voters have welcomed new ballot referendums. It’s difficult to pinpoint, however, just how Marylanders might feel about online casinos.

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Alec Cunningham

As a college athlete, Alec Cunningham played Division II golf at Tusculum University. She graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Professional Writing. She then returned to her love of written word in 2020 after working in the music industry as a concert promoter, tour manager and artist developer. As a journalist, she's covered a variety of topics and currently specializes in Tennessee online sports betting and Virginia casino news. She served as a panelist at this year's All American Sports Betting Summit, discussing the ever-evolving role of women in the gambling industry.

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