After More MD Approvals, What is Holding Up Sports Betting?

After More MD Approvals, What is Holding Up Sports Betting?
By Bill Ordine

Two more applicants received approvals on Thursday from the state Lottery and Gaming Control Commission for Maryland sports betting facility licenses or, in plainer language, retail sportsbooks.

The Lottery & Gaming commission determined that Hollywood Casino in Perryville and Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin met the qualification requirements for sports wagering licenses and both applicants were granted approvals. They came under a streamlined process that took into consideration they had already been vetted and approved for casino licenses and they also held sports wagering licenses in other states with similar standards to Maryland.

Hollywood Casino and Ocean Downs Casino join three other applicants that received Lottery & Gaming’s approval on a similar basis on Oct. 6: Horseshoe Baltimore; Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, and MGM National Harbor near Washington D.C.

It's clear that retail sportsbooks in Maryland will take bets first, possibly during this Maryland NFL betting season, with online sports wagering not expected to launch until 2022.

There is hardly concealed tension at the moment in Maryland between Gov. Larry Hogan on one side and an appointed commission, the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission on the other. Regulators — the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Commission and the Maryland Lottery and Control Agency — seem to be caught in the middle.

The approvals that Hollywood and Ocean Downs received Thursday are being transmitted to the recently appointed SWARC for further licensing approval.

Calling Out SWARC

The SWARC is tasked with making sure that applicants comply with Maryland’s sports gambling law that emphasizes minority- and women-owned businesses are substantial participants in the sports wagering industry. That gives those businesses an opportunity to compete in what has evolved into a fiercely competitive business around the country. However, the SWARC is the de facto final gatekeeper in the licensing process. And, some might argue, a bottleneck.

Among those apparently is Hogan, who said Thursday on Twitter:

This was the second time that Hogan has prodded the SWARC on Twitter. The first time, he also included the commission's email address.

Voters approved expanding Maryland gambling by referendum in November 2020.

When Will SWARC Meet Next?

The SWARC had a regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 14 but it was cancelled without explanation and no new date has been announced. It had been anticipated that SWARC would consider and act on the applications for Horseshoe, Live! and MGM National Harbor that had moved from Lottery & Gaming to the SWARC at that meeting. Instead, the sports wagering process in Maryland has come to a halt.

In an email response to an inquiry regarding the canceled meeting, Matthew Bennett and George Butler of the Department of Legislative Services said: “At this time, a date for the rescheduled meeting has not yet been determined. As has been the case for previous meetings of the commission, notice of the meeting will be posted on the websites for both the Maryland General Assembly and the commission, and a link to a livestream of the meeting will be available on the Maryland General Assembly’s website once the meeting begins.”

Sports Betting Licenses in Other States

The two casinos that received Lottery & Gaming approval Thursday are among 17 entities that were designated in law to conduct sports wagering operations, pending a review of their qualifications to receive licenses, according to a Lottery & Gaming news release. In August, the SWARC voted unanimously that the MLGCC’s qualification standards are sufficient for the SWARC to award licenses to the 17 designated entities.

“We’ve approved five facilities, and our work is ongoing,” Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin said in the news release. “We’ll continue sending applications to the SWARC so that it can make awards and sports wagering can launch by late fall. It’s what the public wants and expects, and we’re doing everything we can to deliver it.”

The Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Agency staff determined that Hollywood and Ocean Downs were qualified, in part, because they already hold those gaming licenses in Maryland as well as sports wagering licenses in other states with standards that comport with Maryland’s own. In the case of Hollywood (parent company is Penn National), that included Pennsylvania, Virginia and Mississippi. For Ocean Downs (parent Churchill Downs), that included Pennsylvania, Colorado and Mississippi.

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A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade.

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