Maryland Tries to Make Sports Betting Legal Without Referendum

Maryland State Capital building

30-second summary

  • Lawmakers are eager to pass legal sports betting in Maryland as soon as possible
  • In its current form, a public referendum is needed
  • This would take place in 2020
  • They are looking at ways to speed up the legalization process by avoiding a public vote

Fast-tracking legal sports betting

Lawmakers in Maryland are looking at ways in which they can speed up the sports betting legalization process. If they go along at their current pace, they will need to put the issue to a public vote in 2020. However, a lot of people don’t want to wait that long for legalization.

Those people want to bring in legalization as soon as possible so they can gain an advantage over other states in the region that will also be looking to legalize sports betting.

The voters have previously supported gambling expansion. They favored a constitutional amendment in 2008 that made casinos legal in the state.

Another referendum may be necessary before commercial casinos can actually open their doors. There was an attempt in 2018 to get sports betting on the November midterm election ballot, but the lawmakers did not do so in time.

Nearby states, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Delaware have legalized sports betting legal since the federal ban was overturned in May 2018. Maryland does not want to lose ground no these states.

Even Washington, DC, is close to having legal sports betting. This is why lawmakers are looking at different loopholes to push through sports betting. They may do it by regulating the activity through the state lottery rather than through private entities.

Alternative route to legalization

Senate President Thomas Miller is in favor of any move that can be made to push through legal sports betting in 2019. He says: “If we can find a way to do it without a referendum, I’m certainly amenable to move forward this year.”

Everything is still up in the air, but there seems to be a lot of positive sentiment in the state legislature to bring these changes to fruition.

The 1972 constitutional amendment that created the state lottery allows the lottery to offer other types of lottery games without seeking approval. However, there could be legal challenges from the casinos, lottery vendors, and horse racing tracks if such a move is made and they are not included.

With the lottery approach, it will come down to the legal definition of the relevant laws. Some people believe that using public workers to operate sports betting is not a good idea. Clarification on the issue will certainly be needed.

If this move doesn’t succeed, legislators will continue to look at ways in which they can bypass having a voter referendum on the issue. There would still have to be a procurement process if it is made legal in 2019, meaning that it would be 2020 before any sportsbooks would open.

Gambling sector in the region

With Washington, DC, close to legal sports betting, Maryland doesn’t want to fall too far behind. Some believe that if the district offers sports betting, it will take a lot of business away from the casinos in Maryland.

A lot of Maryland citizens cross the border to West Virginia regularly to place their sports bets. This is a key reason why legalization is such a priority.

The state’s casinos have been performing well lately. Their revenues rose almost across the board in 2018. Most of that came from slot machines, which accounted for $1.1bn (£850m) out of the total revenues of nearly $1.75bn (£1.36bn).

The best-performing venue is the National Harbor, owned by MGM Resorts. The casino, which opened in December 2016, saw a 16% rise in revenues for 2018, hitting the $705m (£547.6m) mark.

The only casino in the state that did not post a revenue increase is the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore. Its revenues dropped by 4.2%, falling 14.2% and 7.2% in November and December, respectively. Its new deal with the Baltimore Ravens NFL team should help to boost its profile in the region and ultimately improve its performance. Legal sports betting would certainly be a catalyst for the casino that would be much welcome.