The first organizational meeting of Maryland’s newly formed Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) was held on Monday morning and was headed by Chairman Tom Brandt.
As part of the bold approach to Maryland sports betting, SWARC is a six-person group that will award all sports wagering licenses with a mission to give special considerations for Class B and mobile licenses.
After an introduction of members and its staff, along with an overview of the legislation that created SWARC, two members of its staff — Matthew Bennett and George Butler — went over the role of SWARC vs. the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission (MLGCC).
Approving Operators Quickly
SWARC did approve unanimously that for applicants for noncompetitive sports wagering licenses, the application requirements of the MLGCC are sufficient for the Committee to make an award determination.
Maryland’s sports gambling law is unique among the many recent states’ laws that legalize and regulate sports wagering in that Maryland’s law encourages greater ownership by smaller Black-owned and female-owned businesses.
To do that, the Maryland law provides for several tiers of retail sports betting licenses with lower barriers for entry for smaller businesses. For instance, Class A-1 licenses that includes the state’s largest casinos and pro sports franchises will have an application fee of $2 million. The application fees get lower for applicants in Class A-2, B-1 and B-2. Class B-2 licenses for businesses with either less than 25 full-time equivalent employees or $3 million in annual aggregate gross receipts of the applicant’s businesses have an application fee of $50,000.
Along with the SWARC, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission will also participate in the licensing process and be responsible for regulating the sports wagering industry.
Maryland’s Sports Betting Outlook
The unprecedented legislation means that Maryland could have dozens of retail sportsbooks all over the state, from major casinos to local bars and restaurants. Class A-1 licenses are for casinos with more than 1,000 slot machines and professional sports franchises. The application fee is $2 million. Class A-2 licenses are for casinos with fewer than 1,000 slot machines and horse racing operators. That application fee is $1 million.
There will be a total of 30 licenses available for Class B-1 and Class B-2 operators. Class B-1 licenses ($250,000 application fee) are for businesses that do not qualify for a Class B-2 license ($50,000 application fee).
During legislative discussions that led to the crafting of Maryland’s sports wagering law, lawmakers had expressed the hope — even the confidence — that sports wagering would be up and running by the 2021 football season. The reality is that is now an extremely tight deadline with NFL gambling ready to start in just a few weeks.
The season opener takes place on Sept. 9, when the Dallas Cowboys visit the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Locally, the Washington Football Team plays at home against the L.A. Chargers on Sept. 12 and the Baltimore Ravens open their season in Las Vegas against the Raiders on Sept. 13.
“They said it’s just impossible to get it done by the start of football season,” Maryland governor Larry Hogan told Maryland Matters. “I pressed them pretty hard about making sure we get it done at least by the end of football season when all the betting takes place, really — in the playoffs and the Super Bowl.”
Whenever the Maryland gambling retail sports wagering licenses are handed out, it appears that the largest gaming operations will be the first out of the gate with retail sportsbooks.
For instance, one casino, Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover has a multi-million-dollar sports bar/sportsbook ready to go as soon as it gets the green light. Given the amount of work facing both applicants and licensing panels, it appears that online gaming won’t be ready until 2022.
SWARC’s next meeting will be tentatively held, possibly via Zoom, the week of Sept. 20-24.