‘It’s A Problem’: MD Governor On Sports Betting Commission’s Inaction

Written By Derek Helling on November 4, 2021
swarc meeting

The Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission currently has more vocal opponents than supporters. Among those voicing their displeasure after a Wednesday SWARC meeting were one of the state’s leading gambling regulators, as well as Gov. Larry Hogan.

At issue was the commission’s vote to seek more information from five Maryland sports betting license applicants at the end of the meeting.

Hogan was among those with different expectations, and he isn’t looking favorably upon the commission’s decision.

SWARC meeting ends in no final action on licenses

After SWARC members took their meeting into closed session for more than an hour on Wednesday, they reconvened in public for a few minutes. Within those few minutes, the commission voted to “request supplemental ownership information” from the applicants.

The members then voted to push all remaining items to a meeting on Nov. 18. At that time, they may move on the licenses. So far, the commission has not offered any insight as to what was discussed in the closed session or what prompted the need for further information.

The license applicants are five of the six Maryland casinos. The MD Lottery & Gaming Control Commission has already approved licenses for all five. For that reason, besides the final round of testing, SWARC approval is the only remaining hurdle to retail sports betting actually starting at those locations.

John A. Martin, the director of the MD Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, estimates that the five brick-and-mortar sportsbooks could launch within 30 to 45 days after SWARC approval. He was also among those who criticized the SWARC’s decision.

Martin expresses frustration with SWARC

Later Wednesday, Martin described the commission’s decision to Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters as one to “kick the can down the road.”

“We’re obviously as disappointed as anyone on the lack of progress today in the SWARC meeting,” Martin commented. “It was our expectation that they would move favorably on the fives entities that we found qualified.”

That expectation came out of the fact that the SWARC already committed to judging license applications by the same standard as the MLGCC. The news also likely confirms Martin’s fears that online sportsbooks could take up to another year to launch.

“At this point, because they delayed again and put another two weeks into it, the very real possibility is that we’re not going to have anything up in 2021,” Martin added. “And the next thing in danger would be the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.”

Martin’s comments could be seen as forgiving in comparison to what Hogan had to say on Wednesday, however. Hogan suggested interests in the legislature could be putting pressure on the SWARC to create artificial delays.

Governor, House Speaker spar over SWARC actions

Hogan has consistently been among those pushing regulators to get to the finish line. Thus, another delay didn’t sit well with him.

“It’s a problem, and I’m sure they’re all going to be sued by all the people whose licenses have already been approved,” Hogan stated. “If in fact they don’t act immediately and approve (the five casinos) … it’s going to be at least a year or more before anyone gets the ability to do gambling in Maryland. And potentially it could kill the entire deal.”

His comments took aim at more than just the SWARC membership, though.

“It appears as if the legislature and the staff of the legislature and even the attorney for the legislature are pressuring that commission to delay things as long as possible until they can do all of the other, brand-new licenses where companies haven’t even yet been formed, haven’t really applied, (and) haven’t been vetted,” Hogan continued.

The law in MD creates multiple classes of sports betting licenses. Among those classes are licenses specifically for smaller businesses that aren’t necessarily in the gambling space but would like to add sports betting as an amenity for customers. Examples are bars and restaurants.

As Hogan alluded to, creating a framework for regulating such activity might prove difficult. MD House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones hasn’t bought into the idea that the SWARC is intentionally delaying approval.

Regardless of the reason(s), the earliest any license applicants could see final approval is now Nov. 18. If such approvals don’t happen then, the pressure from Hogan and others will likely continue to mount.

Photo by AP / Brian Witte
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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