Maryland iGaming Bill Passes House; What Are Chances in Senate?

Maryland iGaming Bill Passes House; What Are Chances in Senate?
Fact Checked by Pat McLoone

A bill that would legalize online Maryland casinos, contingent on a successful referendum, cleared the state’s House of Delegates on Saturday. However, industry insiders tell that iGaming’s odds to go before voters in November might be higher than betting on boxcars at the craps table.

House Bill 1319 passed with a 92-43 vote on Saturday afternoon. The measure did not feature any debate for its third and final reading. However, earlier in the day, lawmakers did revise the bill while rejecting amendments that would have required in-person registrations or deposits to play on any online Maryland casino app.

Proponents of those amendments argued in-person registration at gaming facilities would ensure that people signing up for the apps are at least 21 years of age – the age limit to gamble at a Maryland casino. They also argued requiring account deposits to be made this way would help curb problem gambling issues.

House Ways & Means Committee Chair Vanessa Atterbeary, the Fulton Democrat who sponsored the bill, told her colleagues Saturday that such requirements were not necessary, especially since they’re not currently in place for Maryland sports betting applications. She said other industries, like telehealth, also do not force people to register on-site.

“We do not have to go in person to the bank to be verified,” she said. “You have online banking. Your credit cards have ways of verifying who you are . . . the (Maryland Gaming and Lottery) Commission is best suited to determine how the industry, who handles this type of technology, can come up with a way to verify that someone is, in fact, 21 years of age. It’s best for them to do that and not for us to figure that out.”

Saturday’s vote got HB 1319 out of the House just two days ahead of the deadline for the measure to leave that chamber in Annapolis. Monday is the crossover deadline in the Maryland General Assembly, meaning bills filed must be approved in the chamber in which they were filed  for them to potentially become law.

While the House did turn down at least four amendments Saturday, the bill has been amended since Atterbeary filed her Maryland iGaming bill more than a month ago.

Changes that made the bill include a $10 million fund that would cover lost wages for workers whose jobs were eliminated due to online casinos cannibalizing revenues for brick-and-mortar establishments. That change came in response to several casino workers who raised fears that iGaming apps would keep people away from visiting casinos across the state.

Atterbeary’s bill still contains a 55% tax on slot revenues generated by iGaming operators and a 20% levy on table games. Operators, though, can deduct a percentage of their promotional and free credits played during their first five years in the state. The rate is deducted on a sliding scale based on an operator’s revenue.

Maryland online casinos that generate less than $4 million in annual revenues can cut their tax by 35% of their promotional spending. The rates drop to 31.25% for those making less than $8 million, 27.5% for those earning less than $10 million and 23.75% for operators who rake up to $12 million.

Operators who generate more than $12 million in revenues each year can deduct 20% of their free play credits.

HB 1319 allows for up to 30 iGaming operators. The state’s six brick-and-mortar casinos may each receive up to three apiece if they hit certain social equity investment benchmarks. Casino operators must agree to spend up to $5 million to build a studio to host live-dealer online table games. Retail sportsbook locations and online operators will also be eligible for licenses.

Licenses will cost $1 million for five years, and the renewal fee will equal 1% of the average revenues they retain from the previous three years.

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Can Maryland iGaming Pass?

While some tax proceeds would cover displaced casino workers and bolster the state’s problem gambling program, most of the state’s revenue would be earmarked for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund. State lawmakers have been searching for ways to meet the requirements they established when they passed the public educational reform initiative three years ago.

Besides seeking more money for education, the state also faces a shortfall of more than $1 billion in the next budget cycle.

Should the bill clear the Senate and become law, Maryland voters would decide on the general election ballot this fall whether the state joins seven others to authorize online casinos. Neighboring states Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are among that group, as is New Jersey, a fellow Mid-Atlantic state.

However, despite the potential for hundreds of millions in new tax revenue, several Maryland iGaming proponents have not sounded optimistic about HB 1319 making it out of the Senate this year. A similar bill filed by Sen. Ron Watson, D-Bowie, has not been acted upon since a committee meeting more than two weeks ago.

One insider told that the Senate does not place the state’s funding crunch as much of a priority as House leaders have made it this session. What that means is that the 2025 General Assembly session could be the one in which Maryland iGaming breaks through.

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Steve Bittenbender

Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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