Maryland Lawmakers Hear Arguments for and Against iGaming

Maryland Lawmakers Hear Arguments for and Against iGaming
Fact Checked by Pat McLoone

For nearly six hours, as Monday afternoon turned into evening, a Maryland legislative committee heard from a parade of experts and stakeholders - including casino operators and union members employed by casinos - who either extolled the benefits the state would receive from legalizing iGaming or warned about the repercussions legalizing Maryland online casinos could create.

Whether any progress was made on House Bill 1319 remains to be seen.

House Ways and Means Chair Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Fulton, presented her bill to the panel Monday before the cavalcade of witnesses chimed in. Atterbeary’s measure is one of two Maryland iGaming proposals currently in the state’s General Assembly. Senate Bill 603, sponsored by Sen. Ron Watson, D-Bowie, is scheduled to get a hearing Wednesday afternoon in that chamber’s Budget and Taxation Committee.

Finding a ‘Sweet Spot’ on Taxes

Atterbeary told her colleagues legalizing Maryland online casino apps would help the legislature keep the commitments it made four years ago to public education when it passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

“The Maryland General Assembly has funded this investment currently through (fiscal year) 2027,” Atterbeary said. “As of right now, the Blueprint is not funded for FY 2028 and beyond. In addition, we have all heard from our school systems or local school systems that the cost of the Blueprint is significant.”

Under HB 1319, up to 12 iGaming licenses would be available. They would pay $1 million for a five-year license, with subsequent renewals costing 1% of the operator’s average annual revenue generated from the previous three years. Licensed iGaming operators would pay a 55% tax on revenue generated from online slots and 20% on their winnings from table games.

A fiscal analysis of the bill from the Department of Legislative Services found the state would receive nearly $540 million in revenues during the 2026 fiscal year, with that figure growing to more than $900 million by 2029. Factoring in cannibalization at Maryland’s six brick-and-mortar casinos, the note forecasts a net increase of more than $417 million in 2026. That would increase annually, with the state netting more than $694 million by 2029.

However, under questioning from her colleagues, Atterbeary admitted that operators want to see that tax rate lower so they can compete with offshore operators that she said take $200 million from Maryland bettors every year.

“I think there’s a sweet spot that we can find that meets the state’s policy objectives and that allows us to compete against the entrenched illegal market and generate meaningful revenues,” MGM Resorts International Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Rick Limardo told lawmakers later in the day. MGM operates MGM National Harbor, a casino resort in Oxon Hill near Washington, D.C., with a BetMGM Maryland sportsbook.

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Baltimore Casino Company Opposed to iGaming

The state’s six casino operators are divided when it comes to supporting iGaming, with representatives from Ocean Downs and Live! Casino Maryland coming out against the measure.

The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based company that operates Live! in Arundel Hills, opposes online casinos, citing the impact it would have on brick-and-mortar establishments and other businesses that rely on tourists and visitors.

“Many of those pushing the state to do iGaming are looking to make money off of it,” Mark Stewart, Cordish’s executive vice president and general counsel, said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s capitalism. If iGaming passes, we’re a gaming company. We’ll do well financially, but despite our potential financial gain, we are asking you not to do iGaming. And that should speak volumes.”

Atterbeary, though, was not happy to see Cordish and Churchill Downs Incorporated, which operates Ocean Downs, offer iGaming at their casinos in neighboring Pennsylvania.

“I’m partially offended by that, actually,” she said. “That it’s OK to do it in one market but not OK to do it here in Maryland.”

No vote was taken at the end of the marathon session. The Maryland General Assembly’s 2024 session is set to end on April 8. However, bills must clear the chamber in which they’re filed by March 18 in order for the other chamber to consider them.

You can count on to follow this developing story, as well as any other news on iGaming or Maryland sports betting.

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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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