(The Center Square) – A Maryland panel tasked with reviewing sports wagering applications anticipates ramping up the frequency of its meetings as an anticipated influx of documents begins funneling in.

The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission has been gathering in recent months to hash out processes and procedures related to applications and regulations for the competitive sports wagering bidding licenses.

A businessman uses a smartphone to place a mobile sports bet. Credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Applicants have until Oct. 21 to submit paperwork to state officials for one of the 90 sports wagering licenses being made available – 30 for facilities and 60 for mobile.

But SWARC panelists made a pivotal vote at the group’s most recent meeting, held Sept. 22. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling, case-by-case basis in an overture official say is designed to keep the process moving.

Jim Nielsen, chief operating officer of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, recommended commissioners pursue this course of action for several reasons.

“We all know that the public was clamoring to get sports betting. We get comments about why hasn’t it launched every day,” Nielsen said. “SWARC can make mobile sports betting available somewhat sooner by awarding licenses on a rolling basis.”

Voters in November 2020 approved legal sports wagering at the ballot box, and the General Assembly formalized the process the following spring with a pair of bills that made it legal in the state.

Regardless of the type of application sought, applicants will be subject to a series of background checks. However, Nielsen said mobile operators stand a better chance of getting off the ground more quickly by the business model that would require little if any, construction.

“A universal award date just seems like it has a lot of inherent risks that we would recommend against,” Nielsen said.

The staggered approach, Nielsen said, is beneficial for other reasons as well, including flexibility with the caps in place. If fewer than 60 mobile sports wagering applications are submitted by the Oct. 21 deadline, applications could still be accepted and reviewed as they are funneled in.

SWARC was created as an outgrowth of the General Assembly’s legalization of sports wagering. The group works in tandem with the agency Nielsen heads.

“The existence of SWARC is unique in that an awful lot of the evaluation process is the province of the lottery organization, its commission, and staff,” said Thomas Brandt Jr., chairman of SWARC.

“But the legislation has a particular focus for us on the diverse opportunities that these applicants will be presenting,” Brandt said.

In June, Gov. Larry Hogan sent SWARC a letter calling on the panel to expedite its process. Hogan, at the time, called on SWARC to at least have mobile sports wagering up and running by the kickoff of the National Football League’s regular season earlier this month – a scenario that did not happen.

“Marylanders have grown frustrated waiting for mobile sports wagering as they have watched it become available in state after state across the country, including our neighboring jurisdictions of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.,” Hogan said.

In his recent discussion with SWARC, Nielsen said the MLGCA desires to move the process along as expeditiously as possible. However, he noted the necessity of the various reasons that still will have to take place.

“Depending on the applicant, it could take some time to get that done if they have significant holdings or if they’re not familiar with the process of background investigations in the gaming industry,” Nielsen said.

David Fidlin

The Center Square contributor

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