Maryland regulators push for quicker sports betting launch

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Maryland sports betting regulators in a letter Friday pushed lawmakers to expedite the prolonged sportsbook approval process as frustration builds over the lengthy delay.

Regulators asked a committee of lawmakers to “render its decision promptly” about approving rules and regulations to launch online sports betting. Thomas Brandt, chair of the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), asked legislators to approve the commission’s rules so sportsbooks could capture as much of the lucrative football season as possible.

“After much work, we are nearly at the finish line, but we need your help,” Brandt wrote to the Maryland Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR). “The sports wagering industry is ‘seasonal’ and the football season (September through the Super Bowl in February) annually generates much more activity than other times of the year.

“Thus, unless we move quickly, Marylanders will miss access to mobile wagering on the 2022 football season, and the state will miss out on the related revenue.”

The SWARC and AELR are both involved in the complex set of procedures needing the approval to implement legal sports betting.

Like all other states with legal sports betting, regulators must create and approve rules for sportsbooks before they can take bets. Sportsbook rules cover key requirements including event eligibility, record keeping and a host of other critical aspects not covered in the state’s sports betting law.

The commission’s draft rules were published in the Maryland Register last week. This sets up a 30-day public comment period before they are finalized, one of many steps that have prolonged the launch process and will prevent a go-live date before the Sept. 8 NFL kickoff.

The SWARC’s sports betting rules must also be signed off by the AELR, which is a joint committee of lawmakers from both the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. Regulators submitted the proposal in July but there is no clear timeline when the AELR will act.

Additionally, the SWARC must await a disparity study review that considers the minority, women and small business ownership stakes and marketing opportunities for mobile sportsbooks. This also requires a review and sign-off by the state’s Office of the Attorney General.

Brandt wrote in the letter to the AELR that the study was completed though not officially published.

SWARC Chair Thomas Brandt: “Thus, unless we move quickly, Marylanders will miss access to mobile wagering on the 2022 football season, and the state will miss out on the related revenue.”

Once it receives all the aforementioned approvals, the SWARC must also license each operator individually following independent lab testing, a process that will take several more weeks. These requirements mean it will be at least several more months until online sports betting can begin.

The pending action on these mandates means there is no firm launch timeline. SWARC members said at a meeting earlier this month they hoped for a go-live date by this upcoming Super Bowl in February.

Maryland’s mobile sportsbook rollout timeline has already run longer than all of the more than 20 other states that have approved statewide online wagering. Most states take roughly six-to-nine months from the time their sports betting legalization bill has been signed into law to the launch of its first regulated sportsbooks. Maryland will take at least 18 months.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who signed his state’s sports betting bill into law in May 2021, has been among the prominent critics of the lengthy rollout. In open letters and tweets, Hogan has pushed the SWARC to expedite the process, especially to get mobile wagering live by football season.

As Brandt mentioned in last week’s letter, SWARC has a myriad of restrictions that have prolonged this process.

Maryland voters technically approved both mobile and retail sportsbooks via a November 2020 constitutional amendment. That amendment required regulators to consider minority ownership stakes in awarding licenses but didn’t offer clear action steps.

To appease these mandates, lawmakers and regulators incorporated a disparity study to be completed before awarding licenses. This study has taken the better part of calendar year 2022.

Maryland’s first retail sportsbooks opened earlier this year, but they are projected to have a fraction of the revenue (and tax generating) potential as statewide mobile betting. Regulators are expected to award two-dozen or more mobile licenses, which in turn are expected to make up more than 90% of the state’s total betting handle.

Maryland is the last remaining Mid-Atlantic state without legal mobile betting.

About the author

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Ryan Butler

Ryan is a veteran sports betting and iGaming regulation and breaking news journalist based in the US. A two-time Associated Press Sports Editors award winner, he has reported on sports and politics since 2012. He has covered the gaming industry since 2018. Ryan graduated from the University of Florida with a major in Journalism and a minor in Sport Management.

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