Maryland sports betting is a step closer as the state's Sports Wagering Application Review Commission voted Thursday, 5-2, to award licenses for retail sportsbooks to the five applicants that had already been found to be qualified by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.
At the moment, Maryland is concentrating on retail sports wagering facility (meaning physical sportsbook) licensing, and consideration of mobile sports licensing will not likely to happen until sometime next year, maybe before or during the 2022 NFL betting season.
The five applicants that SWARC approved Thursday are: Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore City; Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover; MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill near Washington D.C.; Hollywood Casino in Perryville, and Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin.
Exactly when retail sports betting will begin at those five casinos depends on how quickly state inspections, that include trial runs of sportsbook operations, can be done.
SWARC could soon consider a sixth sportsbook after the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission later Thursday forwarded it approval of PointsBet to the review commissioin.
Review by Two Groups in MD
In Maryland, two groups review and approve Maryland sports betting applications: The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission (which relies on the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency for recommendations) and the SWARC, which is tasked with advancing Maryland’s sports wagering law ambition to encourage minority- and women-owned businesses to participate in the sports betting industry.
The SWARC’s progress on approving applicants had been slow, drawing criticism from Gov. Larry Hogan who pointed out that Maryland voters had approved sports gambling in a referendum a year ago by a 2-to-1 margin. Also to date, most SWARC meetings have been conducted largely in closed sessions, leaving the public in the dark about what was holding up getting sports wagering underway. Especially since the Lottery & Gaming Commission had found the current five applicants to be qualified and had passed that recommendation to the SWARC in groups of three and then two in October.
Casting “No” votes Thursday were SWARC commissioners Frank Turner and Cassandra Stevenson. Both voiced similar views that allowing more time for other applicants to catch up in the approval process would be fairer. SWARC member Randy Marriner pointed that more work still has to be done before even the approved applicants can actually start taking bets.
Testing Still Needs to Be Done
Applicants will have to illustrate to the Lottery & Gaming Control Agency that their respective sportsbooks have surveillance, technological and financial apparatus, along with appropriate staff and even responsible gaming plans in place before they’re allowed to operate.
Turner, who as a member of the General Assembly before he retired was involved in the discussion regarding sports wagering several years ago, made the point that casinos in the state could have had sports gambling two years ago, but it was held up because the casinos wanted to keep racetracks from having sports gambling then.
Since then, the landscape has changed enormously. According to Maryland gambling law passed earlier this year, there could be as many as 47 retail sportsbook licenses and 60 mobile sports betting licenses – although no one expects many licenses to be issued.
“They took three years fighting among themselves to decide whether or not we’re going to put it at the racetracks or just put it at the casinos. … The only thing we’re asking is, ‘Give us a little more time’ so that some of these minority- and women-owned businesses can catch up and they can start at the same starting point because we don’t ever seem to start at the same starting point that everyone else does and then we get left behind,” Turner argued.
Casinos in MD Getting Ready
For months, Live! Casino & Hotel has had a multi-million dollar sports bar ready that will be easily transitioned into a sportsbook. The Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore has been working on a sportsbook and brew pub concept on the first floor of the casino.
Though the five qualified applicants were approved, it was clear from the tone of Thursday’s meeting that the SWARC will be looking for more applicants that include diverse ownership to be moved through the approval pipeline.
PointsBet Approved by Lottery Commission
Later Thursday during the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Commission meeting, that group unanimously approved a staff recommendation to find PointsBet Maryland LLC qualified for a sports wagering facility operator license. That approval, along with the PointsBet Maryland partnership with the minority-owned Riverboat-on the-Potomac, would appear to help advance the ambition to encourage more diversity within the sports betting industry in Maryland.
The Lottery & Gaming staff is able to apply an alternative licensing standard to applicants and in the case of PointsBet Maryland that meant it has a valid license in at least three of the 16 Maryland Commission-approved states that also have licensing standards which are comprehensive and thorough and similar to those in the Maryland’s own sports wagering law. A full background investigation will still be done.
No specific physical location was identified as associated with the company during the approval but it remains significant that in June, PointsBet Maryland announced plans to enter the Maryland sports wagering market through an exclusive agreement with the minority-owned Riverboat on-the-Potomac LLC. The Riverboat is moored in Colonial Beach, Virginia. However, because the OTB betting lounge, restaurant, liquor store, and other facilities are located over the Maryland state line, the Riverboat is considered to be Maryland and pays Maryland state taxes.