John Martin is the director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. Just part of what the agency does is vet applicants for gambling licenses and writes the regulations for gaming operators.
The agency also advises the Lottery and Gaming Control Commission on issues it must consider. Lottery & Gaming now has a new partner in the approval process for Maryland sports betting license applicants, the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission.
Here, Martin explains the unique sports gambling landscape in Maryland and notes that he hopes online sports gambling can be available in the state by September, in time to capture NFL betting.
Maryland took its first retail bet in December at the BetMGM Sportsbook at MGM National Harbor.
BetMaryland: The sports gambling law in Maryland is described as unique. In your own words, how is the Maryland law distinct from other sports wagering legislation around the country?
John Martin: A disclaimer, I have not looked at every other jurisdiction’s legislation but from what I see, there are at least three key areas here in Maryland that I believe are unique.
This is not necessarily in order of importance, but the first one is the establishment of the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission, the SWARC. It is our tag team partner if you will, as our co-ruling body here to get the sports wagering business up and running. I'm not aware of any other entity that's created a separate body just for this purpose.
The second thing — and again I appreciate why it's there and it's in there for all the right reasons — is the idea that there will be a seat at the table for the small businesses, minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, to participate in equity positions to be part of the growing landscape. And again, I'm not aware of anybody who's actually put that in legislation as strongly as we have here in Maryland. That is set aside really to broaden the participation.
The third thing is just the potential scope of licenses in the marketplace. There were 18 named entities in the legislation, Pimlico and Laurel (race tracks) are actually sharing a license so it’s really 17. So, you've got those and you also have up to 30 additional brick-and-mortar Class B licenses as they're called, and up to 60 mobile licenses for a grand total of 107-plus licenses.
And again, I'm not aware of any other jurisdiction that put those types of numbers to those segments. That's far and away the leader in the clubhouse if you look at the potential. The reality is, and you and your readers are well aware of this, we're never going to see 60 mobile licenses. But the potential is there for 60 if the market changes and if it does, we’ve got the upside, which isn't a bad thing.
'Pretty Good' Start to Retail Sports Betting
BetMaryland: Please explain the distinction between what your agency does, meaning Lottery and Gaming Control, and the SWARC’s function.
JM: It's really almost a ping-pong type of a thing between the two agencies in terms of there are four steps in the process.
The first step is what we call the suitability — meaning, does granting that sports wagering license applicant a license serve the public interest? Is it a suitable entity in that do they have a business plan? Do they pass the initial review of understanding the marketplace? The legislation already did that when they identified the 17 licenses, so SWARC did not have to do that for the first pass. But they will be doing it now as we get into the additional competitive bid retail locations and the competitive bid mobile licenses. So SWARC does the suitability.
They hand those entities that are suitable to us and we do the qualification, and that's when we really start to get a little deeper dive on the investigative nature — criminal background checks of the principals; financial integrity and stability; do they have the underlying infrastructure to be able to be successful at it?
We then ping it back to SWARC for their awarding of the license. After SWARC says yay or nay … the fourth and final step is the issuance of the license and that involves what we call a controlled demonstration, essentially a dress rehearsal. Assuming they pass that two-day dress rehearsal, we issue a license and then the property opens the doors.
BetMaryland: What has been your observation of the retail sportsbooks so far in the five casinos that have had them since December?
JM: So far, I think it's delivered on the promise especially for the first five entities, which are all casinos. They made no bones about it, it was going to be an enhancement to their overall amenities, it was not their sole purpose.
They wanted to have people come in there, enjoy the facilities, hopefully food and beverage, maybe during, before or after the game, availing themselves of any other options on property. So, it got people inside their locations which is what they intended it to do. And by the way, they had a pretty good first month in December.
We'll see their January figures by the end of this week. On Thursday or Friday we should be rolling out those numbers so we'll get a better handle on it, no pun intended.
Labor Day at 'the Earliest'
BetMaryland: Now here’s the question everyone asks you. What is your over-under in terms of the calendar for online sports wagering? Maybe a better way to ask that question is what steps have to be taken before Maryland gets there on online sports betting?
JM: We still have a long runway here before we can take off. The first part of that is the much discussed second disparity analysis that will be kicked off here very, very soon. But there will be a period of time to do the analysis, do the study, report back and then determine how those findings impact the next step, which is the regulatory and application process.
So, regulations have to be written, then the regs have to go through the normal promulgation and signed-off by various entities within the state of Maryland. Application processes have to be identified and made available online. And then we open the window for the third step, which is receiving the applications. And they'll be subject to the same process I alluded to a few minutes ago on the four-step back-and-forth once those applications come in. We've got a little bit of work to do.
So, be careful what you say, right? I've already gone on the record of saying, "We really need to get this thing up and running by the start of the (2022) NFL season." Everybody in the industry knows football is the Holy Grail here and that's what drives the mobile betting platforms. So, we need to be up-and-running on mobile for the football season.
"September — which is what I've already gone on record as saying — (and) boy, that may be optimistic, but we can't be sitting here a year from now having this conversation and having not been able to deliver on mobile in the 2022 football season."
BetMaryland: So, you would be happy with Labor Day?
JM: I would say it would be the earliest that I would see it happen. And I would say that the implications of that may be a little optimistic, but there's so many variables between now and then. We don't even have pen-to-paper on regulations.
One positive out of this is that people that are already in the game now (with retail sportsbooks) that have already gone through the vetting process to the extent that they choose to get into mobile, well, you don't have to go back to square one. Those people are already vetted and proved for a brick-and-mortar location, so it should make their entry into mobile a little more efficient.
'We Have to be Ready'
BetMaryland: There are other prominent eligible parties, such as the Maryland Jockey Club, the Baltimore Orioles baseball park, M&T Bank Stadium, where the Baltimore Ravens play, FedEx Field, where the Washington Commanders play, the Timonium Fairgrounds. How many of those folks might be operating by Labor Day?
JM: I think it's easy for me to say that a few of them will be, but again, my role here, our role as an agency, is that we have to be ready when they are ready. I can't keep going to them and say, "Hey, are you ready? Are you ready?" They need to provide information to me.
BetMaryland: How about the three smaller business OTBs that have mostly been approved for licensing but haven’t taken the final steps?
JM: I'm hopeful that all three of them will be up and running in the next 90 days, but again, I don't know that because they haven't yet fulfilled their obligations to us. It'd be nice to see them get into the space, though.
I also want to say that just because 17 locations were named in the legislation, we're not waiting for all 17 of them. If none of them ever took another step, it's not going to slow us down on the additional retail or the mobile, so it's not like we have to get these 17 up-and-running before we can do mobile. Not at all.