Maryland Making Progress Again on In-Person Sports Betting, But Online Launch Still a Ways Off

Maryland is on track to open its first brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in casinos by late December or early 2022, depending on how quickly things proceed. The launch of online wagering will take longer.

Last Updated: Nov 18, 2021 7:29 PM ET Read Time: 6 min
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Maryland's effort to get legal sports betting started in the state regained momentum on Thursday after a handful of casinos received a key approval and regulators voted to streamline part of the licensing process. 

Those steps now put Maryland on track to open its first brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in casinos by late December or early 2022, depending on how quickly things proceed from here. Online sports betting is looking like it won't go live in the state until much later next year. 

Still, the first boost on Thursday came from a majority of members of the state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), who voted to award in-person sports betting licenses to five casinos. 

Those casinos had already been deemed qualified to conduct retail sports betting by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission in October, but the SWARC was needed to award the licenses. While the SWARC had the five applications forwarded to it in time for its November 3 meeting, the committee voted instead to seek more ownership information

Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin warned at the time that the SWARC's lack of progress would likely delay sports betting until after the New Year.

Now that the SWARC has awarded the licenses, the gaming control commission can, after a final review (including a "controlled demonstration" of sports betting), issue permits allowing the casinos to start taking in-person wagers in bulk. 

“We’re excited to move forward, and we’re coordinating closely with the casinos to make sure they finish everything as quickly as they can,” Martin said in a press release on Thursday. “Work has been ongoing, and we’re close. Our target is to launch within 30-45 days, which means Marylanders will be able to bet on the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl. We couldn’t be happier about that.”

The five casinos that have been awarded in-person sports betting licenses, as well as their approved operating partners, are:

The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission also voted Thursday to delegate authority to staff to issue sports wagering licenses to facilities when they check all the regulatory boxes. 

“The move will quicken the pace of the sports wagering rollout, because it will not be necessary for the MLGCC to meet and vote to issue licenses after each facility has successfully completed its controlled demonstration,” the release noted. “Similar delegations were made prior to the openings of the state’s casinos.” 

Thursday’s progress puts some wind in the sails of Maryland’s attempt to launch legal sports betting after some recent uncertainty. It also follows a majority of voters last year approving sports wagering and the legislature passing a bill in April authorizing retail and online betting. 

Gov. Larry Hogan signed the legislation into law in May. More recently, however, he’s been publicly pushing the SWARC to award the retail sports betting licenses. 

“We are pleased that the legislature's sport wagering commission has finally acted to approve these licenses,” Hogan tweeted on Thursday. “Our administration will continue to work to get sports betting up and running in Maryland as quickly as possible.”

Yet Thursday’s news involves only in-person sports betting licenses, not ones for online sportsbooks where the bulk of wagering in the state will likely happen.

Maryland’s sports-betting law allows for up to 60 online sportsbook licenses to be issued, but the SWARC and the gaming control commission have yet to start dealing with any mobile wagering applications. Even casinos that receive in-person sports betting licenses will need to apply for separate mobile permits if they want to take online wagers. 

Comments made by Martin earlier this week suggest the launch of online sports betting may not happen in Maryland until late 2022. The director said they are waiting for the SWARC to kick off the process for prospective mobile operators, which could take some time. 

“Matter of fact, if you want to pencil me in for November of 2022, when you do this again, maybe we'll be in a better position to talk about the mobile landscape in Maryland at that point,” Martin said during an industry webinar. 

A unique challenge

Maryland’s sports wagering legislation singles out 17 specific locations for in-person licenses, including six casinos and five off-track betting facilities. It is those 17 named facilities that regulators are addressing first. 

But Maryland’s sports-betting law is unique in the U.S. in that it aims to maximize the participation of minorities and women in the industry. 

For instance, Maryland law mandates applicants that have been awarded a sports-betting license by the SWARC must enter into a memorandum of understanding with the commission. The agreement requires the applicants to make a "good-faith" effort to interview minority and women investors when trying to raise capital in the future. 

SWARC was created by the state's sports-betting bill, and its members are appointed by the governor, the president of the state's Senate, and the speaker of the state's House of Delegates.

The state's focus on diversity in the sports-betting business appears to have loomed large over the application commission. On Thursday, there was even talk during the SWARC meeting about allowing smaller applicants an opportunity to keep pace with what will likely be larger rivals. 

“The only thing we're asking is … give us a little bit more time so that some of these minority and women-owned businesses can catch up,” said Frank Turner, a member of the SWARC and a former member of the state’s House of Delegates.

Ultimately, a majority of SWARC members voted to award the five casino licenses, allowing the next stage of the process to play out. 

One more operator

Meanwhile, the gaming commission on Thursday also deemed PointsBet as qualified for a sports wagering facility operator license in Maryland, which doesn't require SWARC approval.

The bookmaker is partnering with one of the state's 17 named entities, the Riverboat on the Potomac off-track betting facility in Charles County. 

“Maryland Lottery and Gaming staff determined that PointsBet is qualified because it has sports wagering licenses from at least three other states with standards that are similar to those in Maryland,” the release said. “A full licensing investigation of PointsBet is ongoing, and any licenses that are issued may be revoked.”

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