It was certainly welcome news for people impatiently waiting for Maryland sports betting that the state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) decided last week that it would issue mobile sports gambling licenses on a “rolling” basis rather than wait for a single launch date.
In the latter case, there was really no telling when the slowest of applicants would have been ready for the final phases of the approval process that includes, as a final step, a controlled demonstration that all the intricate and integrated parts of their online operations all work to the satisfaction of the state’s Lottery & Gaming Control Agency.
With the SWARC’s decision on Sept. 22 to allow for rolling launches, the timelines of an already-set application process and an announced approval process indicate that, at best, the first online bets could happen in late November – but that’s as optimistic of an estimate as there is. A better guess is mid to late December. Such a date would means a sudden start to online Maryland NFL betting.
Online applicants have until Oct. 21 to apply for a license and the SWARC has 45 days from receiving an application to approve. The caveat is that if there are more than 60 applications, the process could be slowed. Though the law does allow for that many licenses, hardly anyone actually expects that many applicants.
Maryland Committed to Diversity in Sportsbooks
Initially, it was clear that some of the Maryland legislators who helped craft the state’s sports gambling law were sensitive to the timing of an eventual launch for online gambling, whenever it might happen. Maryland’s sports wagering law is unique in America in how strongly it emphasizes diversity within the industry and encourages participation by minority- and women-owned businesses.
The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) was created in the sports betting bill to ensure that the diversity intent of the law is met. However, that mandate has been a tricky task to say the least, requiring lots of legal consulting and triggering a diversity study.
One school of thought had been that to create a more level playing field between the large, national-brand sports betting companies and the smaller operators looking to break into the Maryland sports betting apps business, the state should have a single launch date. The concept of “first movers” – simply being the first out of the starting gate – has been hugely important in the online sports gambling business as demonstrated in states such as New York and Virginia, where the first companies to launch have been revenue leaders all along.
So, to those looking to put all sports betting companies on an equal footing, the concept of a simultaneous launch made some sense. However, it overlooked the complexities of starting an online sports wagering business, not the least of which is finding financial lenders to back such operations. Only a handful of banks are willing to lend for that type of business and qualifying is daunting.
Holding up operators who already have demonstrated that they have the required resources and a track record running online sports betting in other jurisdictions while waiting for smaller, inexperienced businesses to overcome their own operational challenges would not only be unfair to the experienced companies but, more important, it would penalize Maryland’s sports wagering public.
The state’s sports fans have been waiting for online betting for more than a year and, frankly, they’ve been shut out from taking advantage of the juicy promotional incentives that have been on the table in other jurisdictions where online sports betting already has launched.
Retail Started in December 2021
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed the sports betting law legalizing both retail and mobile wagering in May 2021. Retail launched first in five Maryland casinos in December, and subsequently, a handful of smaller businesses, some of which did meet diversity goals, also have been issued retail licenses. But mobile has been far more problematic.
Hogan himself complained in June of the slow pace in an open communication to the SWARC.
The sports gambling licensing process in Maryland is multi-tiered. Both the Lottery & Gaming Control Commission (aided by its staff agency) and the SWARC are part of a back-and-forth approval process. Lottery & Gaming has been screening its applicants all along, and some of those applicants are familiar to the commission and its agency because they’ve been through other approval regimens, such as for casino licensing.
Not long ago, Lottery & Gaming deputy director Jim Nielsen voiced the hope that online betting could begin by the Super Bowl in February 2023. While Nielsen’s thoughts were aspirational, it was the first real date that someone intimate with the process had ventured to offer. Now, the SWARC’s decision to issue licenses on a rolling basis has accelerated the timeline in the minds of many by perhaps as much as two and a half months.
The NFL playoffs, which begin in mid January, are like the holiday season for sports bettors. If Maryland’s online sports betting can break free of the bureaucratic entanglements that have held it back and be available in December, wagering enthusiasts will consider it their very own gift-wrapped present with a bow.
Keep a close eye on BetMaryland.com for news and analysis reports such as this on sports betting in the state as well as for the best Maryland sports betting promo codes.