Maryland Sees Further Delay with Sports Betting Licensing

Maryland Sees Further Delay with Sports Betting Licensing
By Bill Ordine

Maryland sports bettors will have to wait a bit longer to get those wagers down.

The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission, whose approval is needed before Maryland sports betting can begin, held its latest meeting Wednesday without taking definitive action on five applicants. The applicants’ qualifications for a sports wagering facility (essentially, a retail sportsbook) have already been reviewed and effectively approved by the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Commission.

To be clear, only applications for retail sports wagering facilities are currently being considered. The online sports gambling process isn’t expected to even begin until sometime next year. Given the current state of the process, Maryland will be lucky to have online sports betting in time for the 2022 NFL betting season.

When Wednesday’s meeting was announced last week, many expected the first licenses for retail sports betting to be handed out.

What the SWARC did do Wednesday — after meeting in closed session for more than two hours as it received legal advice and was further informed about the gaming industry — was to vote to request that “each sports wagering facility operator … submit supplemental ownership information.” In its motion, the SWARC did not specify what additional information it was seeking.

It also set a time and date for its next meeting: 8:30 a.m., Nov. 18.

In Maryland’s two-tiered approval process for sports wagering operators, Maryland Lottery & Gaming conducts typical background checks on suitability. The nine-member SWARC, a creation of the Maryland sports gambling law that was passed earlier this year, is tasked with making sure that the legislation’s mandate, which encourages substantial participation by minority- and women-owned businesses, is fulfilled. The SWARC’s approval is necessary for gambling licenses to be issued.

There has been frustration in some quarters about the slow pace of the approval process for retail licenses, as evidenced by Gov. Larry Hogan’s comments via Twitter noting that the state Lottery & Gaming regulators has been moving along qualified applicants to the SWARC. The first batch of three was on Oct. 6 and the second group of two was Oct. 20. The SWARC canceled a scheduled meeting on Oct. 14 without explanation, and now the most recent meeting ended with no more than a request for additional information from applicants.

Hogan on Wednesday again showed frustration with the pace of the process, according to The Baltimore Sun.

“If, in fact, they don’t act immediately and approve those, and if the legislature has their way in violating the law, then it’s going to be at least a year or more before anyone gets the ability to do gambling in Maryland, sports betting, and potentially it could kill the entire deal,” Hogan said. according to The Sun.

Senate President Bill Ferguson defended the group in a statement Wednesday, The Sun said.

“I wholeheartedly trust in the ability of the independent commissioners — including the governor’s own appointed representatives — to consider all information and use their best judgment to issue licenses fairly,” Ferguson said.

Five Applicants to Consider

The five applicants whose qualifications have so far been sent from Lottery & Gaming to the SWARC are all current casino operators: Horseshoe Baltimore; MGM National Harbor near Washington D.C.; Hollywood Casino in Perryville; Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover; and Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin.

The demeanor of SWARC chairman Thomas M. Brandt Jr. on Wednesday suggested the arduous nature of the process.

After coming out of closed session, Brandt said, “What should be our next steps as a commission before we lose any more members of the commission to today’s meeting.” Apparently, some members of the commission had to step away and a quorum was in jeopardy.

There was silence.

“We have a need to communicate to what we’re doing. Thoughts?” Brandt said.

What’s Next in Maryland?

Eventually, it was suggested that a timeline be established for gambling operator applicants to submit the additional information requested by the commission and then for the SWARC to consider what was before it. That’s when the Nov, 18 meeting date was hammered out.

“We shouldn’t have long soliloquies the next time,” Brandt said as the meeting came to a close. “We’ve gotten our legal advice to the max and we’ve been oriented to the industry which, I think, our commission needed as well with the benefit of (attorneys). These marathons should be behind us.

“I usually manage meetings better than these but I’ve done my best,” Brandt added. “This has been challenging.”

The expansion of Maryland gambling was approved last November by voters.

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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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