Maryland Poised to Roll Out Online Sports Wagering in December
The first 10 online sportsbooks could launch in Maryland before Christmas after gaining streamlined consideration from state regulators. Maryland Lottery director John Martin said “we’re almost there” and pledged a “flurry of activity” during the next two weeks as regulators seek to expedite the licensing process. The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) will now convene on November 21 to decide whether to award licenses to the 10 operators. If they grant their approval, a new era of online sports betting should get underway in Maryland at some point in December.
This week, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission decided to apply alternative licensing standards to 10 applicants: FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars, BetRivers, PointsBet, Parx, Barstool, Betfred and Fanatics Sportsbook. They were deemed to be “qualified” to hold online sports betting licenses, because they either have retail sports betting licenses in Maryland or they are active in at least three other legal jurisdictions. That means their applications can be accelerated, as regulators seek to ensure the launch takes place during the NFL season.
“We are pleased that we advanced the process today, but of course the work continues,” said Martin, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission. ““There is still a flurry of activity ahead of us over the next couple of weeks, but we’re going to see the first mobile wagers placed in Maryland soon. We know sports fans have been eagerly awaiting that opportunity, and we’re almost there.”
The Long Wait is Almost Over
To say that sports fans have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to place online wagers is an understatement. Marylanders voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing online and retail sports betting when they went to the ballot boxes in November 2020. Six months later, Governor Larry Hogan signed a sports betting bill that the Maryland General Assembly had agreed upon. It permits up to 60 online sportsbooks to launch in the Old Line State, along with a variety of retail sports betting venues.
The first retail sportsbooks launched in December 2021: BetMGM at MGM National Harbor, Caesars Sportsbook at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and FanDuel at Live! Casino. PointBet has also launched a retail sportsbook on a riverboat casino on the shores of the Potomac. However, Marylanders are still waiting for the first online sportsbooks to launch, two years after they approved the ballot measure. The hold-up can largely be attributed to language that the Attorney General’s office added to the sports betting bill, which required SWARC to ensure racial, ethnic and gender diversity when awarded online licenses.
That required SWARC to draw up diversity studies, causing major delays to the process. In June, Gov. Hogan published an angry letter that he had sent to SWARC, expressing his frustration at the “endless hurdles” and “bureaucratic roadblocks” that had caused the delays. He called on regulators to end the bureaucratic quagmire, push forward the licensing process and approve the first mobile sports betting apps to launch in time for the new NFL season. They clearly missed that deadline, but there are signs of clear progress now.
A Staggered Rollout is Planned
On August 30, SWARC revealed that it is no longer required to consider racial, ethnic and gender diversity when issuing licenses. Three weeks later, it revealed that plans for a synchronized launch of online sports betting in Maryland had been shelved, as regulators opted for a staggered rollout instead. Sports betting brands with retail operations in the state were said to be given priority, and 10 of the country’s leading sportsbooks have now been chosen for consideration at SWARC’s next meeting.
Earlier this month, Martin at Maryland Lottery said “it’s our hope that if SWARC can get those [online licenses] to us early November, we may be in business by the end of November. If it takes them to the middle of November, it might be the first part of December. So it’s still going to be a little bit of a moving target but once those applicants are awarded and then issued licenses, we then see an ongoing, rolling process over the next several weeks after that.”
It now seems likely that approval will be granted on November 21, with the first mobile apps and websites launching in mid-December. “After being awarded a license by SWARC, each business must conduct a controlled demonstration, ensuring that its systems and internal control procedures are functioning correctly,” added Martin. “Once a business has successfully completed these steps, Maryland Lottery and Gaming is authorized to issue a license allowing the business to begin operations. The initial start date for mobile wagering will be announced after SWARC has awarded licenses.”
Washington DC Bill Seeks to Draw a Line Under “Embarrassing Episode”
Maryland is the 19th largest state by population and the 17th by GDP, with several big sports teams, so it is expected to be a large market. It could also have an impact upon neighboring Washington DC, which has not exactly coated itself in glory when it comes to online sports betting. The District awarded beleaguered lottery provider Intralot a no-bid exclusive contract to run online sports betting in the nation’s capital via a new app called Gambet DC. It later emerged that council member Jack Evans – the sponsor of the district’s sports betting bill – had a private business relationship with William Jarvis, a lobbyist associated with Intralot.
This mobile app began taking wagers in May 2020, but it provided abysmal odds, causing bettors in the District to despair. No other operators were permitted to launch, giving Gambet DC a monopoly over online sports wagering. However, many preferred to visit a single William Hill retail sportsbook at Capital One Arena, which earned a far larger sports betting handle than Gambet DC. That has now been rebranded as Caesars Sportsbook, while BetMGM has launched a retail sportsbook at Nationals Park too. Bettors can visit either venue to place wagers, and they may start heading into Maryland to use the legal sports betting apps there in a bid to avoid Gambet DC.
Some regulators now aim to take decisive action. DC Councilmember Elissa Silverman has put forward legislation that would add a new class of mobile sportsbooks in the District. Councilmembers Brooke Pinto, Mary Cheh and Charles Allen co-introduced the bill. It would allow operators such as BetMGM, Caesars, FanDuel and DraftKings to offer online sports betting across DC, creating an open, competitive market. “We need to turn the page on this embarrassing episode,” said Silverman. “Residents deserve an online app that works, taxpayers deserve a program that brings in money for the District, and we all deserve a system where we don’t hand huge contracts to a preferred company and its subcontractors without even looking at the competition.”