Maryland lawmakers to put sports betting on ballot

Mar 17, 2018 9:00 AM

Maryland lawmakers are moving forward with plans to ask voters in November whether the state should allow professional and amateur sports wagering, should the U.S. Supreme Court rule unconstitutional a law that largely bans the practice in every state except Nevada.

The House of Delegates by a 124-14 vote approved a bill Thursday that calls for placing a referendum on November’s ballot requesting that voters approve or reject a plan to allow sports wagering at the state’s casinos and racetracks. Supporters of the proposed legislation say Maryland’s licensed gambling establishments would be at a competitive disadvantage if the state fails to to react quickly to a ruling in favor of sports betting.

A committee in the Maryland Senate is considering a bill that is similar to the one approved by the House, although, unlike the House bill, the Senate proposal does not explicitly include or exclude racetracks among the venues eligible for the licenses.

There’s also a possibility that sports wagering in Maryland could provide some state financial aid and impetus for a much-needed renovation of historic Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Track owner/operator, The Stronach Group has indicated it would like some state support in what would be a multi-million dollar restoration project at the venerable home of the Preakness Stakes, the 2nd jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.

Pimlico currently conducts an extremely reduced race meeting that includes the Preakness, contested on the third Saturday in May. However, Stronach Chief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo has indicated the classic race may soon be moved to company-owned Laurel Park, where the preponderance of thoroughbred racing in the Maryland is now conducted if a state-assisted solution to the challenging conditions at Pimlico is not forthcoming.