Maryland vote looms

On May 14, 2018, the Supreme Court deemed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 unconstitutional, thereby paving the way for legal sports betting to expand outside of the state of Nevada.

Fast forward two years, and a lot of states have gotten into the game. As a result of the Court’s decision, Gambling has spread into 22 total jurisdictions.

Many states that do not yet have legalized sports gambling now want a piece of the pie, as they see the huge windfalls of cash the gambling states are earning. So much money is flowing that the Governor of New Jersey tweeted on Oct. 16 about the money made from legalized sports betting.

One of the states trying to get in on the action is Maryland. As surrounding states have legalized betting on sports, Maryland has not expanded its legal gambling industry ... yet.

For the upcoming election on Nov. 3, lawmakers have decided to add a broad question on the ballot. Known as Maryland Question 2, the Sports Betting Expansion Measure, the question on the ballot asks only if voters agree with legalizing sports betting.

A “Yes” vote would support authorizing sports and events wagering at certain licensed facilities with state revenue intended to fund public education. A “No” vote would oppose authorizing sports and events wagering at certain licensed facilities.

Proponents of the bill believe that illegal sports betting is already big business in Maryland. Coupled with the fact that ­­Maryland residents are already placing their bets legally by crossing into Washington D.C. and pulling out their phones, the state is missing out on much needed revenue.

For instance, this lost revenue could help the public schools. Lowball estimates suggest that Maryland would see anywhere from $20-$40 million that could be directed towards public schools.

Joe Weinberg, Managing Partner & CEO Cordish Gaming Group, parent company of Live! based in Maryland, had this to say about the bill: “Authorization of sports betting in Maryland will create tens of millions of dollars in new gaming tax revenue to the state, money that has been constitutionally earmarked to enhance education funding. Sports betting has been legalized in half the states in the country and has become an expected amenity to casino gaming facilities.”

Online sports-betting giants FanDuel and DraftKings spent millions to persuade voters to back the measure and it seems to be working. As of today, things are looking good for everyone that is behind the bill and both the House and Senate seem supportive. Another key factor that bodes well is that there is no organized opposition against it either.

But, there are some questions, the main one being, will the money actually be put towards education? Some opponents bring up 2008, when a casino referendum was also sold as a way to fund schools. Ultimately, the funds were just redirected to other areas rather than adding to the education totals.

Weinberg admitted that was a valid question, but said things will be different this time.

“We agree with those upset that the gaming tax revenues were not initially used to ‘enhance’ the education budget,” he said. “Fortunately, the Maryland General Assembly passed a Constitutional Amendment in 2018 that mandated all gaming tax dollars be used to supplement education funding.””

Witek Wacinski, BetMGM’s Vice President of Strategy & Development, said there are benefits for both those who wager and for the state.

“A yes vote on Question 2 will create the path for legal, regulated sports betting in the state,” he said. “It will allow Maryland voters to wager on sports with operators they know and trust and the tax revenues directed will support Maryland education at a time of critical need.” 

As for undecided voters, Wacinski said: “It is important for voters to understand, sports betting is already happening in Maryland but through the use of offshore, illegal, unregulated applications. Marylanders who are betting in the legal market are going to surrounding states to spend their money, helping to fund priorities elsewhere.” 

Once the ballots are in and if voters approve, then lawmakers would have to get into the details of the actual laws itself like who would be eligible for the licenses to run sports betting operations? If Maryland follows the blueprints of other states, they would license casinos, possibly some racetracks, its fairgrounds and other bigger locations like the Washington football team’s stadium, to operate betting venues.

These brick-and-mortar avenues would go along with an online plan, which would be driven by mostly mobile platforms. Think companies like DraftKings and FanDuel.

Of course, the steps to take after legalization is a whole other discussion. For now, the future of sports betting for the state of Maryland is in the hands of its constituents.