Maryland’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), an essential component of the approval process for the ongoing launch of the emerging Maryland sports betting market, continued its work Wednesday. It heard about and approved information-gathering and information-dissemination strategies by its outside consultant, the law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister.
Despite an eagerness for the start of online sports wagering in the state, there was nothing remotely definitive about when that will happen, although sometime later this year remains the working timeframe. The state Lottery and Gaming Commission meets Thursday.
Although the state has five operating retail sportsbooks, all in casinos, and three more retail sportsbooks have been approved (but are not yet operating), much more work still has to be done regarding the eventual introduction of online sports betting. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made the first bet in the state at MGM National Harbor’s BetMGM Sportsbook on Dec. 9.
Even additional work needs to be completed before the establishment of retail sportsbooks by smaller entrepreneurs, especially minority-owned and women-owned businesses. Fostering greater diversity in the sports betting industry is an extremely important part of Maryland’s sports wagering law.
Prior to hearing recommendations from its outside law firm consultant, the SWARC was briefed by David Stamper, an attorney with the State Attorney General’s Office who has been advising the seven-member SWARC regarding its diversity goals. Stamper addressed an anticipated analysis that would be used to determine “whether the state has a basis for implementing race-conscious or gender-conscious remedial measures.”
An outside firm would do the work on that analysis but, Stamper said, that firm is not even under contract. What is hoped to be a finalizing meeting on such a contract is planned for Jan. 24.
Importantly, the SWARC cannot take any real action on Maryland online gambling licensing until that analysis is completed.
SWARC chairman Tom Brandt asked Stamper what the timeline would be after a contract is formalized, but Stamper was unable to provide one.
MD Moving at a Deliberate Pace
While many in Maryland, including some SWARC members, are eager to move the process along, the SWARC meeting served to underscore the deliberate pace of getting the state’s sports betting industry fully launched.
“It’s based on the workload of the contractor as well as the complexity of the work involved,” Stamper said explaining why the disparity analysis timeline is uncertain. “I think once we get the terms of the contract finalized and have these final conversations, hopefully (I’ll) be able to better give a better sense of a timeline.”
SWARC member Randy Marriner, who is also chairman of the state Lottery & Gaming Control Commission, noted that “time is of the essence” and anything that can be done to move the process along would be advisable. Brandt endorsed the sentiment.
While SWARC waits for the disparity analysis, the commission’s outside consultant, the Taft law firm, suggested it embark on two initiatives on behalf of SWARC: One to survey prospective sports wagering entities, meaning larger companies that operate at a national level, and a separate outreach aimed at local interested parties who need to be educated regarding applying for licenses and also may need assistance in pursuing a sports wagering business.
The SWARC approved both recommendations.
The survey to large gaming companies, more formerly known as a “request for information” (RFI), is going to entities that presumably would have interest in coming to Maryland either as an online operator or partnering with local companies for one of the many “Class B” retail licenses that will be available.
How Industry Views Maryland
Kimberly Copp, the Taft representative, said the survey would help gauge the industry’s thoughts regarding the Maryland market. For example, the survey would canvas respondents regarding the number of licenses — there are 60 mobile licenses available — and the timing of the release of the licenses. But a key to the survey, Copp said, is hearing ideas regarding “the engagement of small, minority- and women-owned businesses in the industry — we know that that’s important and also a mandate in the (sports wagering) statutes.”The response time will be three weeks and that information will be used in drafting application and regulatory ground rules. So again, it would appear much preliminary work needs to be done before online sports wagering becomes a reality. The survey will go out to more than 40 entities. It will also be posted on the SWARC website.
Brandt was blunt in saying the survey was a means of “getting folks informed that can bring some skill and dough (financial resources) to the table.”
Other Jurisdictions Used Surveys
Chicago and the state of New York also used surveys to solicit information from gaming stakeholders.
In addition to surveying the sports gaming industry, Taft is launching an outreach aimed at potential sports wagering applicants in Maryland. The outreach is a beginning education on what those who are interested could expect in such a process, what the attendant expenses will be, and what assistance might be available.
The outreach would take the form of an online power-point presentation as well as virtual and possible live seminars.
The next SWARC meeting is scheduled for Feb. 16 and generally, on the third Wednesday of each month, or if action is required on applications. The latest approval came on Dec. 20 for Greenmount Station, an OTB in Hampstead.