- Maryland has a successful casino industry, hitting record revenues in 2018
- Lawmakers have been looking at ways to make sports betting legal without a public vote
- They have now admitted defeat, with sportsbooks unlikely to open until at least 2021
Maryland’s gambling scene
There are a number of casinos in Maryland, which provide valuable revenue to the state coffers. For a while, it looked like nearby Washington DC would beat Maryland to the punch with legalizing sports betting. However, this no longer seems to be the case. Maryland wants to capitalize on this market before its neighbors get the chance to create a foothold in the sector.
Many of Maryland’s residents already cross state lines to place sports bets in nearby West Virginia. However, the casinos are still performing well in Maryland, with most increasing revenues in 2018. The total revenues for the year were almost $1.75bn, with slot machine revenue making up about $1.1bn of this total.
The MGM Resort’s National Harbor casino was the best performing facility, with revenues rising by 16% to $705m. This casino opened in December 2016.
Only one of the state’s casinos did not see a revenue increase – the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore saw a drop in revenue of 4.2%. November was a particularly bad month for it, with revenue drops of over 14%. It is hoping that a new deal with the Baltimore Ravens NFL team will help improve its fortunes. Legal sports betting would also provide them with a significant boost.
Initial path to sports betting
For many months, lawmakers in Maryland have been trying to bring about legal sports betting. Traditionally, voters have been supportive of gambling expansion. Many people are impatient and want it to happen in 2019. There will need to be a public vote on the issue.
In 2008 a constitutional amendment allowing casinos got significant voter support. There were attempts to get a vote on the November midterm ballot in 2018, but legislators ran out of time to do so.
Some lawmakers have explored ways in which a public vote on the issue could be avoided. The President of the Senate Thomas Miller was supportive of this approach, saying: “If we can find a way to do it without a referendum, I’m certainly amenable to move forward this year.”
There certainly seems to be the appetite in the legislature to eventually implement this move. A constitutional amendment in 1972 allowed the state lottery to offer residents other lottery games without the need for additional approval.
Some believe that the interpretation of this amendment could enable the state lottery to offer legal sports betting without approval. However, such a move likely would be met with stern resistance from the racetracks, lottery vendors and casinos. It all depends on legal interpretation.
It now looks almost certain that sports betting will not happen in Maryland before 2021. Miller said that legislation will not be under consideration by the General Assembly this year. It now seems that it will be 2021 at the earliest that legal sports betting will be on offer. The current legislative session ends at the beginning of April.
Lawmakers have exhausted all possible routes and come to the conclusion that it is only through a state constitutional amendment that sports betting can become legal. A public vote is required in order to do this.
As there are no elections taking place in the state in 2019, the earliest opportunity for a proposal to appear on a ballot is in 2020. A referendum will require approval in the same year it is up for voting on, as per the Senate President.
There is some regret that it has come to this, with Miller saying: “Everybody’s got a head start: Las Vegas, New Jersey… it’s very unfortunate.”
Neighboring states that already offer legal sports betting are Delaware, West Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Maryland will have to make do with its casinos for now.