Maryland lawmakers ended the 2021 legislative session by passing a sports gaming bill. The Senate approved the amended bill 47-0, then the House of Delegates approved the final version 112-16-1.

Maryland voters supported a 2020 ballot measure to approve sports gaming by a tally of two-to-one. It was anticipated that House Bill 940 would be signed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

The new law will permit as many as 30 retail sportsbooks between casinos like Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, professional sports venues, such as Oriole Park at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium and FedEx Field as well as Laurel Park and Pimlico.

In addition, small businesses and scores of other entities and organizations, plus 60 online operators are expected to join the sports gaming business.

Gaming industry executives are hopeful that the first retail and online sportsbooks can launch ahead of the 2021 football season.

Notable in Maryland’s bill is the emphasis on presenting small, minority and women-owned concerns ample opportunity to participate in the new sector of legalized gambling as well as contribute to a state educational fund.

While the licensing process is getting underway, the rollout will take more than a year.

“We tried to design the bill so some facilities will be open by fall for the NFL football season,” said Sen. Guy Guzzone (District 13), “but the reality is that licensing means going through an approval process and extensive background checks” via the newly formed Sports Wagering Application Review Commission.

“We also built the law in ways to help promote diversity,” Guzzone said, though minority businesses applying doesn’t guarantee a license.

“Ultimately, the choice is up to the state. While the licenses may not all be used, we think there are enough available for very broad inclusion.”

Sen. Craig Zucker concurs. The Democratic Senator from District 14 said he thinks Maryland is “leading the nation in terms of not only creating in-state competition for small, minority and women-owned businesses that would otherwise not be able to get into the market but also with keeping up with neighboring states that already have sports betting.”

In addition to the focus on diversity, Zucker is also looking forward to the $18 million that is targeted to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future fund, which was established to boost the state’s educational system in areas such as early childhood education, college and career readiness, among others.

“Having a percentage of the revenues go back to education was a smart move,” said Kerry Tan, associate professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland. “The Blueprint fund tax is 15 percent, so if the tax brings in about $18 million, that’s out of approximately $120 million in projected gross revenues to the sports gaming licensees.”

Another advantage Maryland had when preparing the bill was “the benefit of examining other state’s models and taking what we thought were their best ideas,” Zucker said.

“What surprised me most was the overwhelming support we received when the vote passed last year by that 2-to-1 margin,” said Zucker. “The legislature worked well together on the bill and I think it will make us competitive.”

“I’m happy with it, too,” said Guzzone. “It took two years and was a great deal of work. The proof of its effectiveness will be in its outcomes. If it’s not working right, we’ll come back next year and make adjustments.”

By Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | May 2021 Issue