After a 90-minute meeting, the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) awarded the first sports betting licenses to five casinos in Maryland.
With a 5-2 vote, these MD casino-resorts were issued sports betting licenses:
- Horseshoe Casino Baltimore (partnered with Caesars Sportsbook)
- Live! Casino & Hotel (FanDuel Sportsbook)
- MGM National Harbor (BetMGM)
- Hollywood Casino Perryville (Barstool Sportsbook)
- Ocean Downs (TwinSpires)
Thursday’s meeting was a much-needed win for Maryland sports-betting proponents. However, questions remain about when this initial wave of retail sports wagering will launch.
SWARC’s concerns with awarding sports betting licenses
Before the committee voted to award sports betting licenses, members voiced many concerns.
They ranged from the speed of the process to who’s involved.
Too speedy of a process
SWARC member Frank Turner was one of the two commissioners who voted against awarding the casinos their sports betting licenses.
Turner, whom MD House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones appointed to the SWARC, argued that the commission was being rushed to vote on the matter.
He said that he wasn’t opposed to awarding licenses. However, he wants it to be a thoughtful process, especially given that it took Maryland three years to get this far in the legislative and regulatory process.
Minorities in sports gambling
One commissioner also cited the lack of minority interest in Maryland’s burgeoning sports gambling industry.
By law, SWARC is required to open the door to small, minority and women-owned businesses to become stakeholders in the marketplace.
Ultimately, when online sports betting ultimately launches after retail sports betting, more than 100 operators could be taking bets. However, thus far, members said they’re not encouraged by the early applications.
SWARC members ended Thursday’s session saying they hope to bring in more minority participation, specifically female ownership.
Resolution in sight?
Despite the previous concerns, SWARC voted unanimously that awarding the casinos their licenses was in the public interest.
By awarding the casinos a license, some commissioners argued, they will boost economic development. And that economic activity is in the public interest, they said.
SWARC also agreed that it would help the state with consumer protections and the integrity of sports. They said that’s especially true given that sports bettors in Maryland are crossing state lines to wager in neighboring locales.
Why the delay SWARC?
In October, the MD Lottery and Gaming Control Commission issued preliminary license approval to five out of six Maryland casinos. However, the SWARC had to sign off on those approvals.
But first, committee members requested more ownership information from the casinos before voting.
Here’s the info they received at Thursday’s meeting:
- Two applications are 100% owned by non-minority males
- One applicant is a nonprofit
- Two entities are majority female-owned
- Two entities have some female ownership
- One entity is owned entirely by three individuals who identify as minorities
- Four entities are partially owned by publicly traded companies with some minority ownership
After reviewing the data, SWARC members voted unanimously to accept this information. This was crucial to getting Thursday’s vote completed.
Maryland casinos desire to get this done
On Monday, three Maryland casinos submitted a joint letter to SWARC asking for a “speedy consideration” on the approval of the sports betting licenses.
Horseshoe Baltimore, Live! Casino & Hotel, and MGM National Harbor collaborated on the letter. Those three resorts are the largest in terms of casino revenue in MD.
The trio argued that the SWARC did not give them a reason for the delay in license approval. They also mentioned that hundreds of their employees haven’t started working yet as a result of these delays.
Those claims likely played a part in going through with Thursday’s vote.
Launch of MD retail sports betting still unknown
So, when will sports in Maryland actually launch?
There are still more questions than answers.
Launch of retail sports betting in Maryland
There’s one final step before the official launch of retail sports betting, aka in-person wagering, in Maryland.
Now that the SWARC voted to approve of the five casinos’ sports betting licenses, MD Lottery and Gaming has to actually issue the license to the casinos. Keep in mind, this is a very detailed process, which includes each casino signing a memorandum of understanding.
Before a license is issued, MD Lottery & Gaming also conducts a detailed surveillance check, security check, background check and audit of the casino. Then, the agency reviews the casino’s responsible gaming plans and training programs.
John Martin, the director of the MD Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, said retail sportsbooks could ramp up within 45 days of license approval.
Launch of mobile sports betting in MD
Until regulators issue retail sports betting licenses, online sportsbooks won’t make their debut until next year at the earliest.
While gambling and patience may not go hand in hand, that’s going to be necessary to get through these next few weeks and months.
In the meantime, Marylanders: Sit tight. Sports gambling is (slowly) on the way.