There was some hope among Marylanders that the first Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) meeting of 2022 could bring a better understanding of when the state might launch mobile sports betting. But Wednesday’s meeting, coupled with Thursday’s lottery meeting, gave minimal insight into when digital wagering will come to Maryland.
Late 2022 remains a likely target date for the launch, but plenty of steps remain. The state launched retail sports betting in December, with a handle of $16.5 million during the first month of operation.
Mobile sports betting timeline
It’s hard to place a concrete timeline on when mobile sports betting will launch in Maryland, but it won’t be in the next couple of months. Toward the end of 2021, lottery officials mentioned late 2022 as a possible launch date.
That timeline still seems like the most accurate target date, with Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency Director John Martin telling WTOP late last month that fall of 2022 seems like a realistic starting date.
“Those of us on the inside who are looking at it objectively realize that it would be nice to aim for football season of 2022, September,” Martin said.
Study from AG’s office takes priority
For mobile sports betting to get off the ground, the Maryland attorney general’s office has to complete a study related to the state’s ability to implement race-conscious and/or gender-conscious remedial measures. According to a media contact at the SWARC, the study/industry analysis is designed to look at the sports wagering marketplace and determine if disparities exist that justify such measures.
A SWARC contact also told Sports Handle via email that, “in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. that state programs using race-based classifications are subject to strict scrutiny under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, the ruling held that a program must demonstrate clear evidence that the program is narrowly tailored to address actual disparities in the marketplace for the jurisdiction that operates the program.”
Based on the meeting this morning, MD is only inching closer to mobile sports wagering. Work is being done to prepare, but a big item — new disparity study/industry analysis — has not even started yet. This must be completed before licensing rules can be made. https://t.co/Qy1D0LWvCL
— John A Pappas (@yanni_dc) January 19, 2022
Maryland’s sports betting legislation includes language related to diversity and inclusion within the industry, and the SWARC recently approved sports betting licenses for Long Shot’s (a woman-owned business) and Riverboat-on-the-Potomac (a minority-owned business). The organization wants to ensure that Maryland’s sports betting industry includes diversity of ownership, but the group understandably wants to make sure the measures it puts in place are legal.
Once the study is complete, the SWARC can get to work creating licensing rules for mobile sports betting applicants.
When will the study be completed?
At Wednesday’s meeting, David Stamper, a representative from the Maryland attorney general’s office, said it’s too early to set an exact timeline on when the industry analysis will be completed. The work will be conducted by a firm contracted by the AG’s office, and Stamper said he hoped that a meeting next Monday would lead to a finalized contract with the firm.
“It’s based on the workload of the contractor, the firm, as well as the complexity of the work involved,” Stamper said. “I think once we get the terms of the contract finalized and have these final conversations, I’ll hopefully be able to provide a better sense of a timeline. I’m just not able to do that now.”
Randy Marriner, a SWARC and lottery member, chimed in at the end of the discussion related to the study.
“Time is of the essence,” Marriner said. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time, so anything we can do to turn the heat up would be advisable, I would think.”
In the meantime, the SWARC plans to send out a survey to national operators to get a better understanding of how Maryland fits into the larger sports betting picture. The SWARC also wants feedback on awarding licenses. A pair of possible questions floated in the meeting were:
- The state can award up to 60 mobile licenses. Is it necessary to award that many?
- What suggestions do you have to engage minority- and women-owned businesses in the industry?
“We really can’t take action yet until the study that the attorney general’s office reported to us about is completed, so this is a fruitful, productive way to use time to make our commission be better informed,” Thomas Brandt Jr., the SWARC’s chairman, said.
The SWARC next meets on Feb. 16.
COVID concerns discussed by casinos
At Thursday’s lottery meeting, a handful of casino general managers gave reports. COVID-19 cases, which have caused occasional staffing issues as the area deals with the Omicron variant, were a recurring theme.
Allie Evangelista, the general manager at Hollywood Casino Perryville, mentioned an outbreak on her property keeping “a lot of team members” out of work for a few weeks around the end of December and the start of 2022. Other casino general managers echoed her comments while mentioning a need to continue following proper COVID-19 protocols in coming weeks and months.
“Everyone’s tired of this, but we have to stay on top of it, and that’s been the charge as we move forward,” said Randy Conroy, the general manager at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
On a more positive note, Conroy mentioned a possibility that his casino would expand its retail sports betting operation in light of the early success of the location’s Caesars sportsbook.
An Ocean Downs Casino (TwinSpires) representative mentioned successful Sunday brunches in recent weeks, as customers often come in to eat while placing wagers and watching NFL games on the facility’s TVs. Hollywood Casino (Barstool) also shared that it plans to build its permanent sportsbook (it currently uses a temporary sportsbook) at some point at the end of January or early February, depending on when a permit is approved.