Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan released a letter Wednesday criticizing the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission, which meets Thursday, for its extremely sluggish progress in getting Maryland online betting launched.
Hogan urged far quicker action in order to get online sports wagering going by the start of the 2022 NFL season, which is less than three months away.
The commission, which has come to be known simply as SWARC, is an appointed body that was created in the state’s sports wagering law that includes seven members who were selected (two each) by the state House of Representatives speaker, the state Senate president and Hogan himself, as well as an ex-officio member. It is chaired by Tom Brandt.
The SWARC awards licenses in conjunction with investigations and the findings of qualifications by the state’s Lottery & Gaming Control Agency and the approval of the Lottery & Gaming Control Commission.
Maryland voters approved sports wagering in November 2020 by a 2-to-1 margin and retail sports betting has launched at five of the state’s six casinos. But Maryland betting apps have been mired in a process encumbered by a complex law that emphasizes substantial participation by small, minority- and women-owned businesses.
Just ahead of the SWARC’s regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, Hogan in his letter vented about the slow pace of launching online sports gambling and made several suggestions for how to get the process moving.
“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,” Hogan wrote. “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."
“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.”
Hogan’s Recommendations to SWARC
Hogan’s letter recommended the following steps:
- Prioritizing the awarding of mobile licenses for any of the retail entities named in the original mobile betting legislation that have already been found qualified by Maryland Lottery and Gaming and that choose to offer mobile wagering. In the legislation, 17 entities were named. Those include the state’s six casinos, pro sports teams, horse racing interests and others, such as OTBs and bingo facilities.
- Set a timeline for mobile sports wagering at the next SWARC meeting so the industry and the public can track progress.
- Produce drafts of the mobile sports wagering application and accompanying regulations immediately after the next SWARC meeting so the industry can begin preparing comments, materials, and responses.
- Employ an approach for mobile licensing that was used last fall in expediting the facility license awards (meaning retail sportsbooks) that resulted in the five casino sportsbooks being able to open. In doing so, it will allow for efforts to focus on guiding the small, minority- and women-owned enterprises through the application and qualification process.
- Approve mobile sports wagering license applications on a rolling basis of first come, first served.
Lottery & Gaming Earns Praise
While criticizing SWARC, Hogan praised Lottery & Gaming for its efforts in getting sports gambling launched in the state.
Hogan’s letter was filled with emphatic language as he described the public’s frustration watching neighboring states and the District of Columbia launch online sports betting. And said the SWARC has “allowed the process to stagnate.”
He then criticized the sports gambling law itself saying: “I realize that this ongoing delay is the byproduct of an overly-complex piece of legislation that was skewed to appease special interest groups and organizations.” He also took a swipe at the State Attorney General’s Office contending it was responsible for “bureaucratic hurdles and legal obstacles.”
The delay is not only frustrating the will of voters, Hogan said, it is also costing the state tens of millions of dollars in revenue, much of which would go toward public education.
The NFL regular season begins Sept. 8 with the defending Super Bowl champions Los Angeles Rams facing the Buffalo Bills. The Baltimore Ravens play the New York Jets in Week 1 on Sept. 11.