Maryland Sports Betting Summit Educates, Details Next Steps

Maryland Sports Betting Summit Educates, Details Next Steps

The uniqueness of Maryland’s future launch of sports betting was reinforced with still another rare step when legislators, regulators and industry principals gathered to offer aspiring participants insight and advice on pursuing the broad opportunities the state’s recently passed gambling law offers.

Three panels of experts on Tuesday gave the scores of attendees a crash course on the sports wagering industry in general and what can be expected with Maryland sports betting in particular. State Del. Darryl Barnes of Prince George’s County heralded the cornerstone principles of Maryland’s sports betting bill at the outset, which is designed to encourage minority-owned and women-owned businesses to participate in the state’s incubating sports betting industry.

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Barnes opened and capped the four-hour affair with a purposeful declaration.

“Equity and inclusion,” Barnes told those gathered.

Those ideals were at the heart of Maryland’s sports betting bill that was passed in the most recent session of the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan on May 18.

Maryland sports wagering law stands apart from gambling legislation elsewhere, pointed out Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, a gaming consultancy organization that helped organize the educational symposium. Whereas most gaming laws are driven by “fiscal concerns,” said Pollock, who moderated a panel of state legislators, this Maryland law was “driven by a policy goal for inclusion and to provide opportunity.”

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’Maryland Educational Summit: Sports Betting 101’

Billed as the “Maryland Educational Summit: Sports Betting 101,” the day was organized by or received sponsorship from Spectrum Gaming, the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, the Cordish Cos., and Cordish’s Live! Casino-Hotel, which hosted the conference in that facility’s new events center.

The day featured three panels. The first included key Maryland legislators who helped craft the law and they explained how the extraordinary and complex sports wagering law came about. The second panel featured expert observers of the gaming universe, including Chad Beynon, a senior research analyst with Macquarie Capital; Michelle Cohen, an attorney with the Ifrah law firm; Howard Glazer, global head of government affairs and special initiatives for Scientific Games; and Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming Group.

That panel, led by Spectrum’s Joe Weinert, explained the realities and challenges faced by sports gambling operators, including the industry’s tight profit margins (typically 5%-8%), the impacts of tax rates (Maryland’s is 15%) and the competitive pressures among operators (in Maryland, there promises to be quite a few).

The final panel staffed by regulators and others familiar with Maryland’s law discussed the tiered structure for retail sportsbooks, allowing room for smaller operators to compete against much larger companies, and the wide-open field for online licenses. That panel also educated the audience on application dos and don’ts — one of the most serious of those was to be completely frank in the application process because hiding certain information would be worse than revealing it with an explanation.

Review Commission Still Needs to be Appointed

However, despite the wealth of information passed on to those in attendance, those considering pursuing a sports wagering license were reminded that much about Maryland’s gambling picture is still unclear. A Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) has yet to be appointed. That key group will be the first reviewing body and among the qualifications it will look for is minority and women equity ownership among applicants.

Even the specific regulations governing sports wagering have yet to be hammered out. So, there is much more to be learned and more work to be done by any operator group seeking a sports wagering license, whether to operate a retail sportsbook or an online sportsbook or both.

Barnes, the state delegate from Prince George’s County, said more educational sessions would be held once the SWARC has been formed.

However, the key message he wanted to convey to attendees Tuesday was that an unusual opportunity has been made part of Maryland’s sports gambling law and he wanted to see some in the audience seize it.

“The days of (minority interests) being just a part of something, and saying ‘I was involved in something,’ means nothing to me … This bill, this day, was all about equity and inclusion (and that) means ownership,” Barnes said. “The minority community has been left out of ownership for way too long.”

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