Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is none too happy.
Hours after the state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission announced Wednesday that it was taking no action on sports betting applications for five casinos and requesting that “all the applicants supply additional ownership information” to the committee, Hogan, a proponent of legal wagering, offered up some strong words.
“It’s a problem, and I’m sure they’re all going to be sued by all the people whose licenses have already been approved” by the lottery and gaming commission, Hogan told the media, according to Maryland Matters. “If in fact they don’t act immediately and approve [the five casinos] … it’s going to be at least a year or more before anyone gets the ability to do gambling in Maryland. And potentially it could kill the entire deal.”
It’s unclear why Hogan thinks the delay to the start of legal wagering could be “at least a year,” but it’s a sure thing that wagering won’t start by the end of this year. In fact, lottery officials said Thursday they’re aiming for late January or the 2022 Super Bowl for launch, though they didn’t indicate if that would be mobile or retail.
Maryland has a multi-layer approval process — different from many other states — in which the state lottery initially approves applicants and sends them to the nine-member SWARC for its approval before the lottery can issue licenses.
The SWARC met Wednesday for about 2 1/2 hours, most of it in closed session, before announcing at the end that it had not approved or denied any applications, and was requesting additional information. The commission agreed to meet again on Nov. 18.
Wednesday’s meeting was the second time that the commission delayed a decision. It was scheduled to meet in October but canceled that meeting.
SWARC caving to political pressure?
Earlier this year, Maryland Lottery and Gaming gave its approval to Hollywood Casino (Penn National Gaming/Barstool Sportsbook), Horseshoe Casino (Caesars), Live! Casino (FanDuel), MGM National Harbor (BetMGM), and Ocean Downs Casino (TwinSpires).
“We’re obviously disappointed by the lack of progress in yesterday’s SWARC meeting, but we’re pleased that we’ve moved forward in other areas,” said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin via press release Thursday. “The delay is likely to push sports wagering back until after the New Year. At this point, we are hoping to make the NFL playoffs in January and the Super Bowl in February.
“In the meantime, there are numerous steps that don’t involve the SWARC, and we are working closely with each facility to complete those tasks. We’re also continuing investigations of additional facility applicants so we can forward more of them to the SWARC. We are forging ahead in spite of the delays.”
SWARC was created as an independent commission to resist political pressure like this. I'm confident the commissioners, who have been appointed by the Governor and General Assembly, will get this right. https://t.co/Vp8Bh2JZiN
— Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (@SpeakerAJones) November 3, 2021
The SWARC was created by the legislature an an independent, bipartisan group. But Hogan claims it has bowed to political pressure.
“It appears as if the legislature and the staff of the legislature and even the attorney for the legislature are pressuring that commission to delay things as long as possible, until they can do all of the other, brand-new licenses where companies haven’t even yet been formed, haven’t really applied, [and] haven’t been vetted,” he said.
SWARC is an independent sports wagering licensing entity. I wholeheartedly trust in the ability of the independent commissioners – including the Governor's own appointed representatives – to consider all information and use their best judgment to issue licenses fairly.
— Bill Ferguson (@SenBillFerg) November 3, 2021
Maryland lawmakers were inclusive
Maryland has the most inclusive minority- and women-owned business guidelines for sports betting in the United States. It will eventually allow for about 60 sports betting licenses in the state, so Hogan is likely referring to the smaller operators, vendors, or suppliers that could apply in the future. Under the law, 17 existing casinos and horse racetracks were named as entities that will be licensed, and the expectation was that those venues would be fast-tracked.
ICYMI: Director of Maryland Lottery and Gambling John Martin joined @JasonLaCanfora and @KenWeinmanSport and explained the delay in sports betting becoming live in MD. Martin said the earliest for Casinos would be January, while online betting is far off. https://t.co/iDMz77dbOs
— 105.7 The Fan (@1057TheFan) November 3, 2021
Instead, Maryland, the last jurisdiction in the so-called “DMV” to legalize, will also be the last to go live by a long shot. The first operator to go live in Washington, D.C., the lottery’s GamBetDC, launched on May 28, 2020, and Virginia sportsbooks took their first bets Jan. 21. Both jurisdictions as well as Maryland border states Pennsylvania and West Virginia offer statewide mobile wagering.
Maryland voters first legalized statewide mobile sports betting in November 2020, and earlier this year, the legislature began building out a framework, signed by Hogan in the spring. The lottery passed emergency rules over the summer and then opened the proposed permanent rules for public comment. Stakeholders were vocal about the official league data mandate, which the regulator added, and the draft rules have not yet come up for approval.