Maryland Committee Moves Sports Betting Bill to Full Senate

Maryland Committee Moves Sports Betting Bill to Full Senate
© USA Today

The Maryland Senate committee that handled the House of Delegates-generated bill on sports wagering unanimously sent an amended version of that bill to the full Senate Wednesday night. The Senate is expected to take it up Thursday.

The Senate’s Budget & Taxation Committee’s major revision to what is known as House Bill 940 has been to make Maryland’s sports betting landscape the most-free market approach in the U.S. by essentially having certain categories of retail sportsbooks and the number of online sportsbooks uncapped.

RELATED: More about Maryland sports betting and gaming

What makes the approach so intriguing is that while it appears to be the most laissez-faire of any implementation of sports betting schemes in the U.S. (which would usually be considered a concession to the most conservative of economic impulses), the plan is specifically aimed at increasing minority-owned and women-owned businesses in the industry.

Indeed, the original bill, HB 940, which was introduced by House Speaker Adrienne Jones, was crafted and replete with language that encouraged minority- and women-business participation in Maryland’s sports wagering industry, but it also had bright lines regarding the number of various types of licenses, both retail and online.

Once HB 940 reached the Senate committee, that group took the approach that lifting limitations on the number of licenses would enhance a bill that committee member Sen. Craig Zucker praised for its goals and approach, and tried to make it even more inclusive.

4 Retail, 1 Online Category

The sports wagering bill that now goes to the full Senate has four categories of retail sports licenses and one online license category.

The top tiers of retail licenses (A-1 and A-2) are defined as including the state’s six casinos, horse racing interests and three major sports teams (Orioles, Ravens and Washington Football Team). Where it gets interesting at the retail level is the B-1 and B-2 retail licenses where the field for applicants is wide open.

Theoretically, there could be dozens (and to stretch the imagination, even hundreds) of retail sports betting licenses. License applications (non-refundable) range from $2 million for A-1s to $50,000 for B-2s.

In fact, with no cap on online licenses, there’s no telling how many businesses will pony up the $500,000 for that type of license.

In Time for Football Season?

Maryland voters approved sports wagering by a 2-to-1 margin. Obviously, there’s still a long way to go in Maryland’s march to sports betting although Senate committee members were confident some sports wagering will happen by the 2021 football season.

RELATED: Q&A with Maryland State Sen. Craig Zucker on sports betting

The full Senate has to chew on the committee’s recommended bill and then the bill goes back to the House, from whence it came, where that body will deliberate the altered bill. Perhaps, a reconciliation between the chambers will be necessary. Then, it goes to Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature. The bill is currently identified as “emergency” legislation so the race to the finish line is on. The session ends April 12.

As it stands, the Maryland bill could be quite a model if it encourages business participation by groups long shut out of the sports gambling business while at the same time providing the type of vigorous competition that, logically, would be exceptionally good for the wagering public.

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