Maryland voters on the November 3 ballot will decide the legality of sports betting in their state. If a simple majority votes “yes” on the 2020 referendum question, legal wagering could begin as early as 2021. If a majority votes no, well, it may be a while before Marylanders have access to legal sportsbooks.
With sports wagering already legal in every one of its neighboring jurisdictions, Maryland lawmakers and gaming stakeholders are hoping the Old Line State can follow suit. If voters approve, elected officials will need to pass follow-up legislation to determine the number of sportsbooks that may go online, taxes and fees, and other regulatory issues, but a consensus on those issues should not be far out of reach.
Maryland sportsbooks: A road map
The question appearing on the 2020 ballot — labeled as “Maryland Question 2” or “The Sports Betting Expansion Measure” — reads simply:
“Do you approve the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and events betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”
This question doesn’t answer which entities will be allowed to take bets, or how much it will cost them to do so, key factors that could impact the vote. Still, with public attitudes increasingly in favor of regulated wagering and most key interest groups behind the measure, it seems Maryland will take the next step toward legal wagering in fall 2020.
If the ballot measure passes and the legislature subsequently passes the necessary law to establish the regulatory framework, Maryland would join neighboring Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. on the growing list of states to approve sports betting.
For sports betting backers in the General Assembly, wagering would have begun shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the federal sports gambling ban in May 2018, which granted every state the autonomy to legalize betting. However, Maryland’s constitution prohibits gambling expansion without majority approval via ballot measure, meaning the fate of legal sports betting rests directly with the voters.
Maryland voters have largely supported gambling initiatives in recent years, permitting casino gaming in 2008 and supporting horse racing for decades. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, as well as leading industry stakeholders including the nearby Washington Football Team, have also publicly supported legalization.
Maryland lawmakers will also almost assuredly allow statewide mobile wagering legislation if permitted to do so by the 2020 ballot measure, meaning eligible bettors anywhere within state lines can place a bet through a mobile device.
Potential MD online and mobile sportsbook apps
With the key details of possible legal Maryland sports betting unresolved, it’s too early to tell how many sportsbooks will have the opportunity to enter the market. However, it appears Maryland should have about 10 options, should voters approve wagering in November 2020, possibly more if regulators opt for a multiple “skin” model (or “brand”) — affording each physical property the ability to offer more than one online brand, as in Colorado, Indiana and New Jersey.
The ownership structures of existing casinos and tracks (likely sportsbook licensees), and nationwide market trends and market access agreements, at least gives a decent idea of which sportsbooks will come to operate in Maryland:
|Online Sportsbook (Projected)||Casino||Owner|
|BetMGM||MGM National Harbor||MGM Resorts International|
|William Hill||Horseshoe Casino||Caesars Entertainment|
|FOX Bet||Pimlico Race Course||Stronach Group|
|DraftKings||Maryland State Fairgrounds||Maryland State Fair & Agricultural Society|
|FanDuel||Live! Casino and Hotel||The Cordish Companies|
|BetAmerica||Ocean Downs Casino||Churchill Downs|
|PointsBet||Rocky Gap Casino Resort||Golden Entertainment|
|Barstool Sports||Hollywood Casino Perryville||Gaming and Leisure Properties (Penn National)|
|TBD/Unknown||Laurel Park||Stronach Group|
|TBD/Unknown||Fair Hill Fairgrounds||Fair Hill Races/Cecil County Breeders Fair, Inc.|
|TBD/Unknown||Rosecroft Raceway||Stronach Group|
Maryland casinos and sportsbook brands
Here’s a more detailed rundown on sportsbooks that could operate in Maryland:
There are no sure bets in the often-times complex process of sportsbook affiliation, but it’s safe to say BetMGM will operate in Maryland. MGM National Harbor would undoubtedly open a digital and retail sportsbook if allowed to under state law and It would assuredly use its own app for its flagship sports betting product, which is already available digitally in five states and is pushing one of the more rapid expansions of any operator in the country.
Horseshoe Casino owner Caesars Entertainment would also open a sportsbook, likely with its eponymous sports betting option. Following an acquisition by Eldorado Resorts, “new” Caesars also acquired William Hill, which already had an operating partnership with the company. With the merger expected to be completed by 2021, one of those two brands would presumably receive the Horseshoe skin. Caesars already offers mobile betting in four states and retail books in eight states. It also struck a 2020 deal as ESPN’s exclusive line provider, furthering its visibility to millions of Americans.
One of the largest sports betting brands in U.S. market share, it appears it’s a matter of when not if, FanDuel will enter Maryland should wagering be legalized. The Cordish Companies, owner of Live! Casino and Hotel, already has a FanDuel deal for its soon-to-be-opened Philadelphia property and it would make sense to do the same in Maryland. FanDuel has retail sportsbooks in 10 states, eight of which allow statewide mobile wagering, and typically is among each respective states’ revenue leaders each month. Expect FanDuel to become a market leader in Maryland as well.
BetAmerica or BetRivers
Ocean Downs owner Churchill Downs will most likely use its BetAmerica name for its digital and retail sportsbook skins. With statewide mobile operations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana, Maryland would be a no-brainer for its next market entry. Though it hasn’t quite reached the nationwide spread or market share of some of its sports betting competitors, Churchill Downs is positioned to expand to new markets in the coming years. Churchill Downs does also have some dealings with Rush Street Gaming (Illinois), leaving open the possibility of going with the BetRivers brand that has fared better nationally to date.
If not through Horseshoe, William Hill will likely enter Maryland via Rock Gap Casino Resort. Owner Golden Entertainment has an existing partnership with the European sports betting giant and would be a logical fit for its sportsbook skin. William Hill has the most physical sportsbooks of any operator in the U.S., with retail locations in 11 jurisdictions, eight of which offer statewide mobile betting. This is pure speculation, however, it is possible that Golden does strike a revenue sharing agreement with a competitor, such as PointsBet, especially if it strikes a sweetheart deal. Now partnered with NBC Sports, PointsBet has proven very aggressive with its spending, viewing costs now worth it for increased national footprint.
Barstool Sportsbook owner Penn National Gaming expects to bring its notorious sports wagering media and entertainment brand to a growing number of states and Maryland would be a logical fit. Gaming and Leisure Properties, a real estate investment trust spun off from Penn National, owns Hollywood Casino Perryville and still has close ties to its former parent company. Located just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border, where Penn National is headquartered, the Perryville casino would make sense as the land-based home for the latest Barstool digital sportsbook.
One of the largest U.S. sportsbooks by market share and number of retail and digital locations, it seems certain DraftKings will find a way to enter Maryland. With no clear gambling affiliation elsewhere, the Maryland State Fairgrounds could be the vehicle to do so. The property’s facilitator, the Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society, has sought a legal online and digital sportsbook to help bolster its finances as attendance for its horse races wanes. Lawmakers seem to support the idea as well, and State Fair representatives would unquestionably appreciate the chance to partner with one of the biggest names in American sports betting. DraftKings typically fights with rival FanDuel for the top of the revenue charts in the eight states that it has both retail and digital sportsbooks. It remains to be seen which partnership it would strike in Maryland, but it will inevitably do so again if voters approve wagering in 2020.
The Stronach Group, owner of both Laurel Park and Pimlico race tracks, has pushed legislators to allow retail sports betting at its facilities as well as access to statewide mobile betting. Though it appears the two venerable tracks will have to share an online skin, it seems certain their parent company will open at least one digital sportsbook if sports betting is approved by voters and the tracks are allowed to do so by lawmakers. The bigger question would be a possible sportsbook partner. Stronach previously owned Horse Racing TV, which is now operated by Flutter Entertainment and known as TVG2. Along with FanDuel, Flutter owns FOX Bet sportsbook, and a possible partnership could be a boost for all parties. If not FanDuel, which may strike a deal elsewhere, FOX Bet would surely jump at the chance to own sportsbook affiliations with historic Laurel Downs and Pimlico, home to the Preakness Stakes. Again, regulators may not permit one sportsbook operator to mange two skins (and Flutter would likely choose FanDuel if forced to pick between brands), but FOX Bet remains a leading contender for a Maryland skin.
Maryland demographics and teams
Maryland has the nation’s highest median household income, fifth-densest population and, with just over 6 million residents, the 19th largest overall population. These demographic factors, plus popular sports teams such as the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, MLB’s Baltimore Orioles and the NCAA’s Maryland Terrapins, have industry stakeholders believing it could be one of the more lucrative per capita markets in the U.S.
Legalizing sports betting could also help Maryland keep gambling dollars within state lines. MGM National Harbor, located within eyesight of the Washington D.C. and Virginia borders, became the state’s highest-grossing casino in large part due to out-of-state visitors. The 2016 launch of Maryland’s newest casino helped compel Virginia to approve its first-ever commercial casinos in 2020 and D.C. to legalize an online sportsbook. Now Maryland officials hope BetMGM, along with the state’s five other casinos and three largest horse tracks, can begin sports betting as a way to keep up their neighbors.
More background on legalization
Maryland was one of the first states to consider legal sports betting after the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban in May 2018. It would take almost two years before state lawmakers would pass a bill to do so.
The court’s ruling in Murphy v. NCAA came too late in Maryland’s 2018 legislative session for lawmakers to finalize a sports betting bill that year. Backers in the General Assembly tried to pass a bill again in 2019, but the attorney general’s office determined any sports betting bill was subject to the state’s constitutional gambling ban. That meant voters would have to approve sports betting via a ballot measure, which couldn’t come until the November 2020 elections at the earliest. With no chance for final approval in 2019, lawmakers tabled the bill for the year.
In 2020, lawmakers again took up sports betting knowing that a failure would delay legal wagering until at least 2022. Despite bipartisan support early in the 2020 session, the COVID-19 pandemic cut short the legislative session and pushed lawmakers to curtail a more robust bill. They instead passed a limited measure that would place the sports betting question on the 2020 ballot but would require follow up legislation in 2021.
The truncated bill gives the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission regulatory authority and also provided language promoting minority business interests, a major discussion point during the bill’s deliberation. However, key issues such as tax rates, licensing fees and operator access will still need to be resolved even if voters approve the 2020 ballot measure.
If approved, it’s safe to say Maryland’s six casinos will all have access to retail and online sportsbooks. Industry stakeholders have pushed for multiple online licenses or “skins” for all six, arguing it would mean a more competitive marketplace, but that seemed to have minimal traction in the legislature in 2020.
The state’s two best-known horse tracks, Laurel Park and Pimlico, will also likely have retail and online sports betting opportunities, though since they share an owner it appears they will have only one skin between them. Lawmakers also seem supportive of a skin for the Maryland State Fairgrounds, which has struggled drawing attendance to its horse tracks in recent years.
Other operators could prove more controversial. Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder has lobbied for a sportsbook at his team’s Landover, Md. home stadium, but that could spark a complex domino effect and anger other stakeholders. If the Washington Football Team could have a sportsbook at its stadium, it reasons the Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles would push for a similar option at their facilities. But the two Baltimore stadiums are adjacent to the Horseshoe Casino, which would surely oppose the extra competition.
Elected officials will need to balance these interests as part of the often contentious legislative process should voters approve sports betting in 2020. Backers have touted sports betting as an education funding boost, but they will need to weigh the direct gains of higher taxes with the threat that poses to potential market competition; high fees mean more direct money, but could also scare off would-be market entrants.
However, if approved by voters, it shouldn’t be a question of if Maryland will have sports betting, but how it will do so. Unlike some states where conservative and religious groups have successfully lobbied against legal sports betting, there is little such opposition in Maryland. The state’s population is younger and more affluent than the national median average, demographics that are usually more supportive of legal sports betting.
Work remains before Maryland accepts its first sports bet, but after two years of legislative efforts, voters and lawmakers seem poised to, finally, legalize wagering.
History of legal gambling in Maryland
Though Kentucky usually comes to mind when Americans think of horse racing, Maryland’s history in the sport is nearly as rich. For 150 years, Maryland has bred some of horse racing’s greatest champions and hosted many of its most iconic races. Home to Pimlico Race Course, the nation’s second-oldest commercial horse track, and host of the annual Preakness Stakes, Maryland remains one of the country’s more viable horse racing markets, even as nationwide interest wanes.
In more recent times, Maryland has been better known for a growing casino market. Since New Jersey brought legal casino gambling to the East Coast in the 1970’s, the entire Mid-Atlantic region has slowly embraced commercial gaming. Like several other states in the region, Maryland approved its first casinos within the first few years of the 2000’s. By 2016, Maryland has six full-scale casinos, including MGM National Harbor. Located near the borders of D.C. and Virginia, the property is the highest-grossing casino in the state.
As the region continues to expand its gaming offerings, especially after long-time holdout Virginia approved its first casinos in 2020, Maryland has looked to stay ahead of regional competition in an increasingly saturated market. The prospect of statewide mobile sports betting could help attract new customers while keeping Marylanders from crossing state lines to wager.
In the 1870’s, Maryland was a leader in commercial horse racing at a time when it was the nation’s only major legal gaming avenue. A century later it was one of the early adopters of a state-sanctioned lottery. Assuming voters approve sports wagering in 2020 – as they did casino gambling in 2008 – Maryland should again be a relatively early adopter, this time one of the second wave of states with statewide mobile sports wagering.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is sports betting legal in the state of Maryland?
No. Maryland voters will either approve or reject legal sports betting during the fall 2020 elections. If a majority approves, lawmakers will then have to pass further legalization legislation in 2021. If a majority rejects the measure, sports betting remains illegal.
When will Maryland online sports betting go live?
Should voters approve sports wagering in 2020, elected officials will still need to pass legislation that covers purveyor access, tax rates and other key regulatory concerns. A bill may not pass until late in the first quarter or early second quarter of 2021, and betting may not begin until Q3 or Q4 of that year.
Who can place a real-money sports bet in Maryland?
State officials have not finalized eligibility requirements ahead of the voter referendum, but expect bettors age 21 and up that are physically located within state lines to be able to place a bet via a mobile device. There will also likely be certain additional eligibility restrictions, such as gambling self-exclusion lists.
How many online sportsbooks will be available in Maryland?
Lawmakers have not finalized how many mobile sportsbooks will be able to go live in Maryland, but it looks like it will be as few as six but possibly/probably 10 or more.
Can I bet in other states or Washington D.C.?
Other neighboring states such as Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have already approved mobile wagering, but bettors may need to download separate apps when leaving Maryland and crossing into these other states. Washington D.C. currently only has one citywide mobile app which is run by the District lottery and is only available within city lines.
Will mobile sportsbooks offer bonuses for new players?
Yes. Maryland’s online sportsbooks will all have some sort of bonus offers. The leading nationwide brands will likely enter the market and will probably offer similar deals as in other states with legal wagering, including welcome bonuses, odds boosts and many more offers updated frequently.
What bet types and betting markets will be available?
Maryland regulators and lawmakers will need to finalize eligible markets, but all major professional and college sports including the NFL, NBA, NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL and many more will be available. Officials seem disinclined to ban wagering on in-state college programs, meaning bets on programs such as the University of Maryland should be permitted.
What options will I have for depositing and withdrawing funds?
Specifics over deposit and withdraw options are not yet finalized, but Maryland sportsbook will probably allow at minimum deposits through credit cards, debit cards, ACH transfers, pre-paid cards, cash at casino cages and digital payment processors such as PayPal. Most if not all of these options will also be available for withdraws.