Maryland ready to take next step

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Last Tuesday, Question 2, a referendum that asked voters to decide if they backed legal sports betting in Maryland, passed by a considerable margin. Over two-thirds of the constituents voted to legalize sports betting in the state. The word on the street is that sports betting in the Old Line State should begin as early as 2021.

One of the reasons for the potential overwhelming success on election night may have to do with the fact that sports betting is expected to generate $20 million to $40 million a year directly into the state’s education ©, as required by legislation approved by the General Assembly to put sports betting on the ballot.

“It’s very important in this age of COVID, where the economy is still suffering, that any additional revenue we can get from sports betting will be helpful to helping to close the budget gap around education,” said Sen. Craig Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored sports betting legislation.

The passing of the referendum is just the first step in a usually lengthy process, as this particular ballot measure simply amended the constitution to permit sports betting. Lawmakers will now need to work on the logistics and key details, such as, the criteria for eligible operators. Another big step for the legislature will be to figure out how gambling will be taxed.

A more comprehensive bill that answered many of the key questions at hand was making its way through the legislature before the 2020 session was shortened due to the pandemic. Because they were short on time, the legislature scrapped that bill and instead went with a very simple proposal that placed the constitutional amendment on the ballot.

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Even though Maryland has a Democratic-controlled General Assembly and a Republican Gov. in Larry Hogan, both sides seem to be in agreement on the matter of legalized gambling. The legislators largely support legal wagering and if you couple that with the fact the voters are very much also for gambling, it is just a matter of when, not if, elected officials pass the necessary follow-up legislation.

In the past, many other states in similar situations focused on ramping up to be ready for football season, which is the most lucrative sport for U.S. sportsbooks. It’s reasonable to assume a late summer or early fall 2021 launch for Maryland.

Joe Weinberg, Managing Partner & CEO Cordish Gaming Group, parent company of Live! based in Maryland, sees a similar timeline.

“The next step is for the legislature to pass enabling legislation and the Maryland Lottery to promulgate regulations,” he said. “The Legislature convenes in mid-January in Maryland and is in session through mid-April, so we would expect enacting legislation first quarter-early second quarter and properties going live with retail sports books and mobile sometime late second quarter to third quarter.

Online betting also seems likely, especially after bordering states Washington D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all have approved mobile wagering.

Every company that has a hat in the ring is working on being ready once the full legislation is passed.

“We plan to be ready to implement both retail and mobile as soon as the authorization is in place,” Weinberg said.

Speaking of Virginia, four cities took the next step in terms of gambling, as they approved new casinos. Voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth all approved brick-and-mortar casinos for their towns. Mobile sports wagering will be allowed to launch ahead of the opening of retail casinos, which could still take years to get fully rolling.

When it comes to mobile wagering, the Virginia Lottery says it’s still aiming to launch mobile sports betting operators in early 2021. It’s been a busy year for the Lover’s state as it first had to craft sports betting regulations in less than three months. They are currently vetting applications and it will now have to develop a regulatory framework for retail casino gaming.

The Lottery has not released the names of applicants, but the big players, including BetMGM, DraftKings, PointsBet and FanDuel are likely among them. Hard Rock, Caesars and Rush Street Interactive all already have casino partners in the state, so it’s a safe wager that they or their partners (William Hill in the case of Caesars) also will offer retail and mobile sports betting.

Lastly, Maryland was not the only state to approve sports betting last Tuesday, as both South Dakota and Louisiana also joined the game. That means more than half the nation could have sports betting by the end of next year, less than three years after The U.S. Supreme Court struck down PASPA, clearing the way for all 50 states to adopt it if they chose.

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