Legalizing sports betting in Maryland — at least via constitutional amendment — is a dead issue for this legislative session.
“This will be a brief hearing, I think, because this bill is a constitutional amendment and it is my understanding that there will be no more constitutional amendments passed this year,” said Senator Chris West (R-District 42) by way of introducing SB 470 at a Committee on Budget and Taxation hearing Wednesday morning. “So this is kind of a preview of what you’ll see next year.”
The news must have been some sort of a surprise to both West and the 11 witnesses signed up to testify about the bill on Wednesday.
According to the General Assembly’s library and West’s office, there is no hard and fast rule prohibiting or limiting the introduction of constitutional amendments during the legislative session. But it’s apparently not uncommon for leadership in either chamber to put an informal moratorium on such legislation, particularly in a non-election year. West was trying to get an amendment, which would have called for a voter referendum to legalize sports betting, onto the 2020 ballot.
DraftKings, FanDuel planned to testify
According to the text of the bill, if voters were to support the initiative, anyone holding a video lottery operation license, a thoroughbred or harness racing license or a casino with a video lottery terminal license would be allowed to offer sports betting.
Among the witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing, there were at least two each representing sports betting operators DraftKings and FanDuel, as well as several representing the state fair and horseman’s interests. Those from the state fair were seeking an amendment to the bill that would allow for sports betting at racetracks with 1/2-mile tracks, rather than the 1-mile tracks the bill calls for.
Representatives from DraftKings and FanDuel generally kept their remarks brief, saying they support sports betting in Maryland, and “see you next year.” Only Andrew Winchell, on behalf of FanDuel, had anything more to add.
“(FanDuel) is in support of an open, online marketplace in Maryland,” he said. “Only the states that include an open, online marketplace will be able to capture the black market.”
Mobile is king
Winchell went on to compare revenue from New Jersey, which has state-wide mobile, to Mississippi, which does not, saying that New Jersey’s revenue is about nine times that of Mississippi. For the period of August-December 2018, New Jersey had a handle of $1.19 billion as compared to Mississippi’s $157 million. Mobile now accounts for more than 80 percent of New Jersey handle, according to the very latest figures.
In addition, he stated that FanDuel — and presumably other experienced online vendors — would be able to effectively prohibit underage sports betting.
There are still at least five other bills that touch sports betting in some manner circulating in Annapolis. Just last week, the House Ways and Means Committee held an informational hearing on sports betting. Representative Jason Buckel (R-District 1B), one of the bill sponsors, complained that the general assembly was slow to embrace sports betting and that Maryland is falling behind its regional neighbors in terms of legalizing.
Neighboring West Virginia was among the first states to legalize when it did so in the middle of last year and Washington, D.C. legalized sports betting in December. West Virginia launched sports betting in the fall and Washington, D.C. is in the process of developing regulations and a framework for a projected summer launch. The Virginia general assembly closed Feb. 23 without legalizing sports betting.