MD Sports Betting Panel Sets Meeting Date, Could OK Licenses

MD Sports Betting Panel Sets Meeting Date, Could OK Licenses
By Bill Ordine

There may be light at the end of the tunnel for eager Maryland sports bettors. The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission, an important stop in the Maryland sports betting licensing process, is scheduled to meet on Nov. 3.

Though there was no agenda posted with the announcement of the SWARC meeting, there’s an inference that the commission might issue licenses to those sports betting operator applicants that have already been approved by the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Commission. To be clear, the licenses SWARC would be issuing would be just for retail sportsbook operations. The licensing for online sports wagering in Maryland is not expected to happen until sometime next year.

So far, Maryland Lottery & Gaming has sent its recommendation for five operators, which are also five of the state’s six casinos: Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover; Horseshoe Baltimore in Baltimore City; MGM National Harbor near Washington, D.C.; Hollywood Casino in Perryville, and Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin. The sixth casino is the relatively small Rocky Gap Casino Resort in Flintstone.

In the Maryland approval process, Maryland Lottery & Gaming is the regulator that determines suitability in some of the more traditional areas, including background investigations. Meanwhile, the SWARC is tasked with making sure that applicants comply with Maryland’s sports gambling law. which emphasizes that minority- and women-owned businesses are substantial participants in the sports wagering industry. In practice, SWARC is the de facto final gatekeeper in the licensing process.

The SWARC is a nine-member commission with three members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates, three appointed by the president of state Senate, and three appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Still a Chance to be Live During NFL Season

The five casinos that have already received Lottery & Gaming approval are among 17 entities that were designated in law to conduct sports wagering operations, pending a review of their qualifications to receive licenses. The law also provides for other entities to apply for retail and online licenses. Three Maryland casinos (Horseshoe, Live!, and MGM) were recommended by Maryland Lottery & Gaming on Oct. 6 and two more (Hollywood and Ocean Downs) got the nod Oct. 21.

When the sports wagering bill was passed in April, some legislators expressed optimism that sports wagering would be up and running by football season. Of course, the NFL season — the most popular time of year for sports betting — has been moving along. The NFL is now nearly half way through its 17-week regular season. The league is headed into Week 8.

Time is of the Essence

Hogan has made no secret that he wants to see the licensing process move along. The same day that Maryland Lottery & Gaming approved the most recent two operators, Hogan tweeted: “No one is pushing harder than I am to get sports betting up and running here in the State of Maryland.”

The same message is coming from the regulators.

“We’ve approved five facilities, and our work is ongoing,” Maryland Lottery & Gaming Director John Martin said at the time the two most recent approvals were moved to SWARC. “We’ll continue sending applications to the SWARC so that it can make awards and sports wagering can launch by late fall. It’s what the public wants and expects, and we’re doing everything we can to deliver it.”

Last November, voters approved Maryland sports gambling by a 2-to-1 margin in a referendum. The General Assembly passed sports gambling legislation, Hogan signed it into law, and the state’s gaming regulators promulgated sports wagering regulations earlier this year.

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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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