Maryland Bill Authorizing Sports Betting Vote Passes into Law

Maryland Bill Authorizing Sports Betting Vote Passes into Law
© USA Today

Maryland voters will have final say in November on legalizing sports betting after Gov. Larry Hogan let legislation calling for the referendum become law without his signature.

Hogan, who is starting to reopen Maryland slowly, vetoed several key bills Thursday, but allowed the sports betting bill and a bill authorizing the redevelopment of Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, home to the Triple Crown’s Preakness, to pass into law.

RELATED: Learn more about gambling in Maryland

The Maryland General Assembly approved the sports betting bill in mid-March before adjourning its legislative session weeks early because of the coronavirus pandemic. If voters approve the measure in November, the legislature would have to work out regulations, tax rates and licensing approval, and how sports betting would be implemented.

If all that happens next legislative session, Maryland could take its first sports bet in 2021.

Maryland Voter Referendum Is Required

The voter referendum on sports betting is required by Maryland law. The referendum question would be phrased to say that authorizing sports betting would raise revenue for education, according to the amended House version. The question reads: “Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and event betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”

That question is much more straight forward than the question that went before Colorado voters in November. Proposition DD — the Colorado referendum — included confusing wording that mentioned tax increases and water reclamation projects before sports betting. Maryland could become the third state to legalize sports betting through a voter referendum after Arkansas and Colorado. Louisiana is also considering legislation that would put the question of legalizing sports betting before voters in its 64 parishes in November.

A voter referendum is not a sure bet in Maryland. A February poll of Maryland residents by Goucher College in Baltimore showed 47% supported expanding gambling to allow sports betting online in Maryland and 43% opposed it. In addition, 45% supported expanding gambling to allow sports betting at race tracks, casinos or stadiums in Maryland, while 49% were opposed.

Maryland Falls Behind States with Sports Betting

Although Maryland has had casino gambling for years, it has fallen behind nearby Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia and Delaware when it comes to sports betting and other gaming options. Virginia has also legalized sports betting and is trying to have it operational before the end of 2020. Washington, D.C., planned to roll out sports betting by the end of March, but delayed the launch because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to sports betting, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey have legalized online casino gaming. Online poker sites are also legal in those three states. Online casino and poker have not been included in the expansion of Maryland gaming.