Sports betting is now officially legal in Maryland. The state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) gave final approval this Thursday for five casinos to start taking wagers, in a 5-2 vote.
The venues now allowed to conduct in-person sports betting are: Hollywood Casino in Perryville (Barstool Sports); Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore (Caesars Sportsbook); Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover (FanDuel Sportsbook); MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill (BetMGM); Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin (TwinSpires).
While the gambling facilities were already vetted and signed off on by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, they still required final approval from the application commission. In order for approval to be final, casinos must first sign a memorandum of understanding, reports WTOP News.
The legalization of sports betting in Maryland was partly motivated by the state losing out on potential revenue, as gamblers went to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and D.C. instead. Mobile wagers are slated to come to Maryland next, although the licenses for this form of betting are still months away from being issued.
During the Thursday meeting, commissioner Frank Turner voted against approval, saying there should be more time for 17 applications still in the process to advance. “Let us all start at the same starting point for a change,” he stated, according to the previously cited news source. “I would have hoped that we could have done this before the end of the year, where the other group would be part of the five licenses that we are now considering.”
Commissioner Randy Marriner, who said Maryland had to get the first five licenses “done as quickly as we can,” stated that the casinos were approved first because they didn’t have as far to go to be up and running, given they already accept gambling. “They are already so regulated we know who they are,” Marriner said. “That’s why they ended up here first.”
A delay in the process of license approval was previously criticized by casinos. In a joint statement earlier this week, Horseshoe Baltimore, Live! Casino and MGM National Harbor pressed the state to accelerate the approval, citing concerns about their sportsbooks operations not being up and running during the NFL season. The review commission panel first received the applications from the control commission in October, but took weeks to approve them.
One of the main reasons behind the delay was a previously-announced commitment from lawmakers to include black and female-owned businesses in the state’s betting industry, citing a fear that if national-level players were to get a head start, smaller local firms would find it hard to enter the market.
This issue was again brought up during Thursday’s meeting. Some SWARC members expressed concerns that a rush to approve licenses for casinos, while not investing the same attention for women and minority-owned businesses, would negatively affect their participation in the industry.
“I want to ensure that within the confines of where we are and where we find ourselves, that we put forth the effort to ensure that minority and women-owned businesses have the ability to be in the pipeline, to be considered sooner, quicker and faster,” SWARC member Rosie Allen-Herring said, according to Saturday Tradition.
While certain regulatory hurdles still need to be cleared before the casinos can begin operations, the launch still could be as soon as January 2022. Additional Maryland casinos are expected to have their licenses approved in the coming months.