US Sports Betting Update – Maryland governor condemns delays in awarding mobile sportsbook licenses
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has slammed regulators for extensive delays to the rollout of mobile sports betting in the state. Voters approved online sports betting more than 17 months ago, but only retail sportsbooks are currently open for business. Maryland has taken longer than any other state to issue online sports betting licenses, and Gov. Hogan has demanded an end to “overly bureaucratic procedures”. He is calling on the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) to ensure that mobile sports betting begins in time for Week 1 of the NFL regular season on September 8, 2022.
Gov. Hogan wrote to SWARC chairman Thomas Brandt and his team this week, urging them to speed up the process. “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.,” wrote Gov. Hogan. He said he shares their frustration, as it has been nearly two years since Marylanders voted overwhelmingly in favor of sports betting, and over a year since he signed HB 940 into law.
“Instead of decisive action to implement the voters' decision, you have allowed the process to stagnate and become mired in overly bureaucratic procedures that have needlessly delayed the state's ability to maximize the revenue potential of this emerging industry,” added Gov. Hogan. “Almost two years later, after citizens made their choice, they are still waiting for the mobile component that will define the success of the sports wagering program. Sports fans in Maryland simply want to be able to place bets on their mobile devices – that’s what they voted for, and they are angry and discouraged over SWARC's inability to make it happen.”
“Citizens Deserve Clear and Definitive Action”
Gov. Hogan said he appreciates that HB 940 is a complex piece of legislation, skewed to appease special interest groups, but he added that SWARC has failed to define a clear pathway for mobile sports wagering to begin. “It is simply inexcusable for that to be the case more than a year after the bill was signed into law. With only five physical locations in the state currently accepting sports wagers, Maryland is losing tens of millions of dollars in economic investment and education revenue that should be going toward our public schools and students. Not surprisingly, many Marylanders are traveling outside of the state to place their wagers.
“Our state and its citizens deserve clear and definitive action from SWARC and a legal, transparent framework to place mobile bets — not endless bureaucratic roadblocks that continue to hold back progress. The time for deliberation has long since passed. I am calling on SWARC to act now by prioritizing the awarding of mobile licenses for any of the retail entities named in HB 940 that have already been found qualified by Maryland Lottery and Gaming and that choose to offer mobile wagering.”
He wants SWARC to set a firm and transparent timeline for mobile sports wagering. That would allow the industry and the state’s residents to track the group’s progress. He also called on the group to release draft regulations immediately, allowing the industry to prepare responses, and to approve mobile sports wagering applications on a rolling, first come, first served basis. “Mobile sports wagering will be dominant in Maryland, just as it is in other states, with estimates that 80% to 90% of all wagers will be made via mobile devices. The ongoing delay is preventing Maryland from fully and properly tapping into this market. Maryland Lottery and Gaming has gone above and beyond to make this launch happen. I call on you to act with the same level of urgency and clear the way for mobile sports wagering.”
SWARC Chairman Defends the Sluggish Rollout
Four states – Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana and Wyoming – have all legalized and launched sports betting since Marylanders approved the measure in a November 2020 ballot. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed a sports betting bill in December 2021, the application window is now open and it too looks poised to launch mobile sports betting before Maryland. Meanwhile, SWARC has continued to push Maryland’s launch date back.
One issue is the requirement to include a “disparity study” in the process, a legal obstacle placed by the Office of the Attorney General when HB 940 was being negotiated. It is designed to identify opportunities for businesses owned by women and people of color to benefit from the industry, but it has delayed the rollout, and the study is still not completed.
“I understand that many are frustrated that the process relating to the issuance of Maryland mobile sports wagering licenses has been time-consuming,” SWARC Chairman Thomas Brandt said. “I also want everyone to know that SWARC and its support team have been operating as diligently and deliberately as we can under the Maryland sports wagering law that we’re tasked to administer.”
The group would only say that it will be ready to accept the first licensing applications “sometime in the summer.” Jim Nielsen, deputy director of the Maryland Lottery, said the regulations are 95% complete. Maryland Lottery and Gaming director John Martin has suggested that mobile sports betting will not be possible in the state until the Super Bowl in February 2023. The state could eventually license up to 60 mobile sportsbooks.
“The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission’s investigations and the SWARC’s application process may not have the same starting point, but it’s always been the plan for them to unfold on parallel tracks,” said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin in a press release. “Some investigations could take several months, so now is a great opportunity for all potential applicants to get the ball rolling.”