In these unusual times, the Maryland General Assembly did something unusual, too. Between late Tuesday and noon on Wednesday, lawmakers stripped a sports betting bill of key details and overwhelmingly passed it in both chambers, ahead of an early Wednesday session adjournment. The bill, SB 4, will now to go to Governor Larry Hogan.
The bill calls for a referendum and would allow Maryland voters to decide to legalize sports betting or not. The passed version — which got a 129-3 vote in the House and a 45-0 vote in the Senate — includes the referendum language, contains a section about minority business, gives regulatory authority to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission, funnels revenue to public education, and calls for a study.
Among the key sections removed from the bill were the proposed 20% tax rate on gross gaming revenue, application fees of $1.5-$2.5 million, and the location of physical sportsbooks, including the possibility of allowing the Washington Redskins to operate a sportsbook should they choose to keep their field in Landover, Md. In neighboring Virginia, lawmakers sent a sports betting bill to their governor that includes provisions for the Redskins to offer sports betting in the state.
Virginia bill includes sports betting for Redskins
Under the terms of the Virginia bill, any major professional sports team with headquarters in the state — and the Redskins currently have their headquarters and training facility in Northern Virginia — could have sports betting. The Redskins have been shopping for a new stadium site, as their lease for FedEx Field in Landover, Md. expires after the 2027 season. The Virginia bill defines a stadium as “the physical facility that is the primary location at which a major league sports franchise hosts athletic events and any appurtenant facilities.” It also would allow for a pro team “prequalified” to build a stadium in Virginia to offer mobile sports betting ahead of the completion of the stadium.
In Maryland, it appears that lawmakers were in a race to get sports betting on the November ballot. The General Assembly will adjourn today, three weeks early, as the coronavirus continues to take its toll on U.S. government and services, and certainly on the casino industry as well. Voter referendums are only allowed in Maryland in even-numbered years.
According to an amendment of SB 4, the referendum will read:
Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and event betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?
Only two other states have approved sports betting by referendum — Colorado and Arkansas. In Colorado, in large part due to language on the ballot that implied a new tax would be levied, the vote last November was very close. Here’s a look at what voters in Colorado were asked to vote “yes” or “no” on:
Shall state taxes be increased by twenty-nine million dollars annually to fund state water projects and commitments and to pay for the regulation of sports betting through licensed casinos by authorizing a tax on sports betting of ten percent of net sports betting proceeds, and to impose the tax on persons licensed to conduct sports betting?
Colorado operators are set to go live with sports betting by May 1, as mandated in the new law.
Arkansas voters approved sports betting at four casinos 54.1%-45.9% in November 2018.
Maryland’s General Assembly became the third state legislative body in 2020 to approve sports betting. The first was in Washington, which sent a tribal-only sports betting bill with no mobile component to Governor Jay Inslee on March 7. Virginia lawmakers followed suit on March 8, sending their bill to Governor Ralph Northam. Neither governor has signed, but both are expected to do so.