When Governor Larry Hogan signed Maryland’s sports-betting bill, also known as Bill HB 940, into law in mid-May, the timeline appeared near-perfect for online sports betting in Maryland to launch ahead of the all-important 2021 NFL season.
All of a sudden, it’s late July, a number of regulatory hurdles still need to be surmounted, and there are fewer than 50 days left in which to do so.
On July 15, the Lottery and Gaming Control Commission approved a set of regulations for Maryland’s sports-betting industry. It was a big step toward the first legal wager being placed in the state, but still leaves a host of hurdles.
The main impediment is licensing. While Maryland’s sports-betting law allows for 40 licenses for retail sportsbooks, plus an unprecedented 60 licenses for online sportsbooks, the actual process of handing out those licenses is barely in motion. The recently passed regulations did not specify what applicants need to do to apply. Those are details that will be determined by a separate, but overlapping, committee.
The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (“SWARC”) is the regulatory body tasked with approving license applicants. The seven-member commission is headed by John A. Martin, who is also the head of the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. The majority of the other six members are working or serving in other capacities as well, meaning the SWARC is a part-time role.
The committee still needs to create its application materials and then give prospective applicants time to respond accordingly. Once applications are approved, there are inspections that need to happen before bets can be placed/taken.
Many of the corporate entities expected to apply are already known. BetMGM entered into a partnership with the Baltimore Ravens the day after Governor Hogan signed Bill HB 940 into law, giving the sportsbook advertising rights within M&T Bank Stadium along with a “sponsored presence” on Baltimore’s website and social-media platforms, and a hospitality suite at M&T Bank. The NFL does not permit in-stadium betting operations at the moment, but mobile apps will be accessible on smartphones, and the new law does permit professional sports venues to apply for licenses. So if and when the league regulations lineup, in-stadium betting will become a reality at M&T Bank, FedEx Field, and Camden Yards.
The Washington Football Team, which plays its home games at FedEx Field in Greater Landover, signed a partnership deal with FanDuel back in January after sports betting was legalized in Virginia.
It’s also been reported that DraftKings, PointsBet, William Hill, and Barstool Sportsbook have made in-roads in Maryland and are preparing to apply.
Maryland’s betting law expressly allows the six casinos within the state to apply for betting licenses.
The structure of Maryland’s betting law which, as mentioned, permits up to 60 online sportsbook licenses, means that smaller entities will be able to participate in the state’s betting market, as well. But it will likely take many years for the seven-member SWARC to mete out all the available licenses.
At this stage, it is appearing less and less likely by the day that the first of those licenses will be issued in time for bets to be taken on Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season. But as has been clear for some time, legal sports betting in the Old Line State is a matter of when not if.