Maryland senators on Tuesday agreed in principle to move a House sports betting bill out of the Departments and Agencies Subcommittee with plans to take a formal vote on Wednesday. The bill would ultimately legalize statewide mobile and retail sports betting, would not cap the number of licenses that could be issued, and would give priority to women and minority businesses, which has been a key issue since sports betting became a meaningful topic of conversation in the General Assembly last year.
Lawmakers have less than a week to get HB 940 to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for signature. The session is set to close on April 12. Between now and then, HB 940 must officially get out of committee and onto the Senate floor, pass the Senate, and then go back to the House for concurrence.
The full House approved HB 940 on March 11.
Wednesday’s meeting is set for after the Senate floor session, and lawmakers will have multiple amendments to consider. There was little opposition to any of the proposed amendments, which were developed during a work-group session earlier in the day Tuesday, and the expectation is that the bill will move forward.
Betting by football season is the goal
Should that happen, and should it ultimately get Hogan’s signature, lawmakers feel confident that those in Maryland will be able to place legal sports bets by football season.
“Every jurisdiction around us has sports betting, so you have people in Maryland who walk a block, go into D.C. and bet, then walk home,” said Sen. Craig Zucker during the committee meeting. “So there is an urgency.”
In fact, Maryland is the last state in its region to legalize — voters did that through the November 2020 ballot — and would be the last to launch operators. Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania were among the first states outside of Nevada to legalize and offer live wagering in 2019, followed by Washington, D.C., in 2020 and Virginia in January 2021.
Among the amendments that senators will consider Wednesday is one that would level the playing field for professional sports venues that want to offer sports betting.
Under the House version of the bill, Oriole Park, M&T Field (Baltimore Ravens), and FedEx Field (Washington Football Team) could have retail sportsbooks on site, but could only be open on game days or for special events that bring a set number of customers onto the property. But the Departments and Agencies Subcommittee will consider an amendment allowing the venues to offer brick-and-mortar sports betting every day of the year, mirroring laws in neighboring Washington, D.C., and Illinois, both of which allow sportsbooks at professional sports venues.
Key tax rate would be 15%
Senators will also bring amendments that:
- Set the tax rate for Class A operators at 15% of gross gaming revenue vs. the House bill imposing 15% on the first $5 million of ggr and 17.5% for ggr above that. The tax rate for Class B operators would be a flat 13%.
- Set license applications fees at $2 million with a $500,000 renewal (every five years) for Class A1 licensees (pro sports venues, big VLT locations and horse-racing venues); $1 million with a $300,000 renewal for Class A2 licensees (smaller VLT parlors); $250,000 with a $50,000 renewal for Class B1 licensees (any non Class B2 licensee); and $50,000 with a $10,000 renewal for Class B2 licensees (entities with fewer than 25 employees and gross income below $3 million). Mobile-only licensees would pay a $500,000 application fee with a $100,000 renewal.
- Require a pro sports venue to partner with a casino in its county if it chooses to partner with a casino for sports betting.
The Maryland Stadium Authority is pushing to give the Orioles and the Ravens a bigger piece of sports betting. https://t.co/vVNdTemxDK
— WJZ | CBS Baltimore (@wjz) April 1, 2021
The 13% tax rate would apply to smaller sports betting operators, including Rocky Gap Casino, Ocean Downs Casino, and other locally owned and operated businesses.
There may also be amendments that seek to refine the minority business language in the bill and to give certain small businesses a “head start” on bigger entities that offer sports betting. Maryland lawmakers have made minority participation a centerpiece of sports betting legislation, and as the bill moves forward, additional guardrails may be placed to ensure vibrant minority participation.