The state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission plans to award mobile sports betting licenses to 10 qualified applicants at a Wednesday meeting. The list of operators includes BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, and FanDuel, among others.
Today we are proud to report that sports fans can finally plan for the official launch of mobile sports betting in the State of Maryland.
Read my full statement: pic.twitter.com/N2nHv5aIv5
— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) November 14, 2022
Sportsbooks can’t immediately go live on Wednesday, though.
They’ll need to go through controlled demonstrations with the Maryland Lottery before being issued a license and given the go-ahead to officially launch. There’s a difference between being “awarded” a license by the SWARC and “issued” a license by the lottery. A mobile sportsbook can only launch with a lottery-issued license.
After licenses are awarded by the SWARC on Wednesday, the Maryland Lottery plans to identify an initial start date for mobile sportsbooks shortly thereafter. It will likely announce that date at Thursday’s lottery meeting.
“Our staff has been in continuous contact with these mobile sports wagering businesses, and has already guided them through many of the necessary steps,” Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin said in a press release. “The last hurdle is for them to have controlled demonstrations, and SWARC’s awards of licenses on Wednesday would clear the way for that to happen.”
The controlled demonstration phase conducted by the lottery is essentially a soft launch for the mobile sportsbooks. Maryland’s soft launch process is unique, and it could lead to confusion among sports bettors.
The controlled demonstration process
While the timeline for the mobile sportsbook controlled demonstrations has yet to be announced, the process mirrors what retail sportsbooks have followed to launch in the state.
During a set period of time, a sportsbook goes live and takes wagers. The sportsbook then must go offline for the lottery’s staff to review the previous period of betting, making sure everything went smoothly.
Once the lottery is satisfied with the results during the controlled demonstration phase, a license is officially issued and the operator can go live without any restrictions.
For the retail sportsbooks, the process takes a few days. For example, when Greenmount Station in Hampstead recently launched a retail sportsbook, it held controlled demonstrations on Oct. 24 and Oct. 26 and was issued a license on Oct. 28.
It’s not a complicated process for the operators, but it could throw off mobile sports bettors in the state unfamiliar with the controlled demonstration process.
“It’s not ideal from a customer experience standpoint, especially for customers that it is their first time using a sportsbook,” Paul Hannon, PointsBet’s senior vice president of corporate development, told Sports Handle.
PointsBet is among the operators likely to launch a mobile sportsbook in Maryland by the end of this month.
On the plus side, a soft launch is a common procedure for physical sportsbooks, so Hannon doesn’t expect the controlled demonstration process to be a challenge for the mobile operators.
“That’s very standard on the casino side where you soft launch for a period of time, temporarily pause operations, do an audit, and then come back and re-launch again for a grand opening,” Hannon said. “We’re not strangers to this kind of start-and-stop scenario.”
Operators could theoretically mitigate possible statewide confusion by limiting how many customers are allowed to wager during the soft launch, but Hannon says PointsBet doesn’t plan to limit initial sign-ups. There’s little benefit to the sportsbook operator to do so, as reduced confusion during the controlled demonstration doesn’t outweigh the desire to quickly gain market share in the state’s mobile market.
Maryland isn’t the only state with a soft launch period. Regulators in Connecticut allowed mobile sportsbooks to go live for a week last October before their full launch, although the state’s soft launch looked different from Maryland’s.
During Connecticut’s soft launch, operators could sign up no more than 750 bettors. The process was clearly outlined, and bettors in the state knew they likely weren’t able to bet until the soft launch ended.
Connecticut mobile sports betting and iGaming set to begin Oct 19 after a limited "soft launch" begins Oct 12, state regulators announced today. 750 customers will have access to DraftKings, FanDuel and Rush Street Interactive sportsbooks beginning next week before full launch.
— Ryan Butler (@ButlerBets) October 8, 2021
Maryland’s soft launch will carry no restriction on the number of bettors. With some people likely unaware of how the controlled demonstrations will work, however, it’s possible some users will become frustrated when a mobile wagering platform temporarily goes offline.
On the flip side, the years-long wait for mobile sportsbooks in Maryland is almost over, so what’s one more minor inconvenience for the state’s bettors? The initial launch process might be disjointed, but it should quickly be completed with any inconvenience and confusion likely soon forgotten by users.
“We’re super excited to launch in Maryland,” Hannon said.