The slow-moving rollout of Maryland sports betting sites took a surprising turn Wednesday when the Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission approved regulations and applications that exclude specific mention of race- and gender-based criteria for online sports betting licenses and some retail wagering licenses.
SWARC Chairman Tom Brandt opened the commission’s meeting by noting “over the past year we have heard extensive legal advice on constraints” on SWARC in managing the licensing process, particularly in achieving racial and gender diversity to the extent allowed by state and federal laws.
To avoid further delays, Brandt said the SWARC has asked staff and consulting professionals to draft regulations “that exclude race- and gender-based criteria.”
However, the SWARC — still intent on meeting the state legislature’s goal of achieving diversity in the sports wagering industry — is requiring applicants to demonstrate at least 5% of direct or indirect of ownership by at least one individual with a maximum personal net worth of $1.8 million. The approach mirrors the practice of at least one other state agency, the Department of Transportation, which hews to federal regulations, for determining “disadvantaged business enterprise qualifications.”
The SWARC approvals were unanimous among attending commissioners and Brandt said he informed two absent commissioners and they were also in agreement.
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Logjam Could Be Broken
The approval of the draft regulations and the draft applications for online sports wagering and some “Class B” licenses for retail sports wagering facilities doesn’t mean that it’s an open road to broader sports gambling in the state, but it may be the step that breaks the logjam in getting there.
Still ahead are the draft regulations and applications being approved by the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, and then there will be a public comment period.
Importantly, the SWARC is still waiting for the results of an ongoing study of the sports gambling industry that is being conducted by a consulting party in association with the state Attorney General’s Office. That study will help determine whether there is a legal basis to implement race- or gender-conscious measures in the application and evaluation process.
When that study/analysis is completed and SWARC considers that input, there may be more changes to the regulations and applications, Brandt said.
Applications Can Be Worked On
In the meantime, applicants can begin preparing their submissions using the information that is available now in online applications available from the Maryland & Lottery Gaming Control Commission and the SWARC, Brandt noted. Each group has its own application process.
Considering SWARC hasn’t set a timeline for additional actions, estimating when online sports wagering will be available to sports fans is entirely speculative.
However, Marylanders aren’t completely without sports gambling.
Five casinos have operating retail sportsbooks and four other smaller businesses have been awarded retail licenses, but they haven’t started accepting wagers.
While retail sports betting is certainly not as convenient as online wagering, at least 70% or more of the state’s residents are less than an hour’s drive from a sportsbook. Still, online sports wagering has been key to boosting sports wagering action — often substantially — in most of the other jurisdictions that have launched online sports betting. Maryland took in less than $20 million in sports betting handle for June, while neighboring Virginia, with its robust online market offering a variety of options, has posted handles of at least $300 million and often more than $400 million per month for the past several months.
A SWARC meeting planned for July 20 was canceled and the next SWARC meeting will be in August.