Maryland has entered into its final chapter of sports betting approval, but it appears that regulated market launch will take longer than expected. While Governor Larry Hogan signed the state’s sports betting bill into law back in May, Marylanders will not be able to legally bet on sports until at least January 1st, 2021. And even then, state officials still indicate that the New Year’s Day launch date for retail sports wagering debut isn’t a sure bet.
The Old Line State has been facing delays for the past couple of months since Gov. Hogan’s formally ratified the sports betting bill. As a result, some casinos recently joined forces to pressure the responsible authorities to step on the gas in issuing out licenses. Finally, a day after the teamed-up state casinos protested, the authorities seemed to have heeded the call and announced a few developments to launch regulated sports betting.
Five Casinos Receive Sports Betting Approval From SWARC
On Thursday, the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) gave the green light to five casinos to offer retail sports betting in a 5-2 vote. The five casinos that received the Commission’s blessing for taking in-person wagers are:
- Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin
- MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill
- Hollywood Casino in Perryville
- Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover
- Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore
However, this approval isn’t considered final until all the five casino facilities sign an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding). From there, the said casinos are required to follow several procedural steps before they can officially start offering legal sports betting operations in the Old Line State. Initially, the properties had thought that their approval would come two weeks ago, but the SWARC chose not to vote until Thursday.
In the meantime, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency staffers have switched into high gear to work with the five casinos to assess and approve their operational systems. The systems under scrutiny include security and surveillance systems, standard operating procedures, internal controls, employee training procedures, and responsible gaming plans. The final step of this process will be a soft launch that will involve live sports wagering under the watchful eye of MLGCA officials.
On one of the regulatory meetings on Thursday, John. A Martin, the MLGCA Director, gave a hint of when Marylanders may potentially be able to bet on sports in a statement as follows:
“The casinos might be able to start offering sports betting within 30 to 45 days, and certainly in time for the NFL playoffs in January and the Super Bowl in February. We still have a few important steps to go before we get to that final grand opening for each and every property.”
The five casinos are part of the 17 gambling properties given the first chance to apply for retail sports wagering licenses. Some racetracks, off-track betting facilities, and bingo halls are also among the facilities that got the first opportunity. The five brick-and-mortar casinos had already received the go-ahead after a preliminary MLGCA review that confirmed they had the capacity to abide by the strict sports betting operation rules.
Mobile Sports Betting Not Expected to Launch Until Late 2021
Eventually, Maryland plans to open the retail sports betting license applications process for up to 30 more facilities, whereas mobile sports betting licenses will have up to 60 slots. But then, as the retail sports betting approvals process continues at a relatively slow pace, the situation for mobile sports betting launch is far much worse. According to Maryland regulatory officials, state residents may not see mobile sports betting until late 2022.
The date is just a rough estimate partly based on how long the retail sports betting process is taking, even after several casinos have already received their licenses. Another reason for the late 2022 launch date estimate is that the SWARC plans to commission another disparity survey for the mobile sports betting licenses. This study is expected to assist the Commission in establishing the regulation and standards that will be useful for determining the criteria for competitively awarding the sports betting license – 30 in-person and 60 mobile.
Martin, the SWARC director, also blamed the current delays on the tedious hoops that operators have to jump between regulatory agencies before getting approval. The SWARC will first welcome applicants, and after the application window closes, the evaluation will take place. From there, suitable applicants are to be forwarded to the MLGCA to confirm their qualification before being handed back to the SWARC, which will facilitate the official license. On this, Martin said in part:
“That process will take longer because we’ll have less familiar clientele. For this thing to run smoother, that relay race, the baton back-and-forth, we’ve got to work on those exchanges, or we could be doing this for another year.”
As the delays continue, a couple of other states whose sports betting bills were signed into law around the same period as the Old Line state are far ahead. Arizona and Wyoming, for example, have already launched their retail and online sports betting markets. On the other hand, Louisiana experienced some delays for its retail sportsbooks due to Hurricane Ida, but it got back on track and launched earlier this month. Meanwhile, online sports betting in the Pelican State is expected in early 2022.