When a reader reaches out, there’s a decent chance I know the question on their mind before I even read their message. Typically they’ll ask, “Why is it taking Maryland so long to launch mobile sports betting?”
It’s a fair question, and the answer relates to the state’s sports betting legislation. Maryland’s law includes specific language related to diversity and inclusion that makes the process of launching mobile sportsbooks more time-consuming than the process in other states. A fiscal note attached to HB 940 sums up the situation well.
“The bill expresses the intent of the General Assembly that the sports wagering program is to be implemented in a manner that, to the extent permitted by law, maximizes the ability of minorities, women, and minority and women-owned businesses to participate in the sports wagering industry, including through the ownership of licensed sports wagering entities under the bill,” the fiscal note reads.
Essentially, the Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission, which awards licenses to retail and mobile sports wagering operators, is required to consider inclusive measures when creating rules and reviewing license applications.
SWARC waits for study
The commission is waiting on the results of a disparity study, which will help determine whether additional measures are needed from the SWARC to enhance diversity within the state’s sports wagering industry. When the study — which began in March — is completed, the SWARC can move forward with the process of awarding mobile sports betting licenses.
For Maryland bettors, the completion of the study is an important step toward commencement of online wagering, and it explains why it’s taking so long before mobile operators can launch in the state. The legislation’s priority for increased diversity within the industry handcuffs the SWARC when it comes to moving quickly, and the commission has no say in how quickly the disparity study is completed.
Kind of paradoxical when they are rightfully warning small applicants about the inherently low-margin business that is bookmaking, but at the same time trying to foster said applicants to join the industry? Just going to end up with token partnerships with national operators.
— hamilcar (@Hamilcar1228) May 19, 2022
The state lottery can’t move faster than the SWARC either, as the SWARC has to award licenses before the lottery can provide final approvals.
“We’re all anticipating the industry analysis. The completion of that should wrap up here in the next several weeks,” said John Martin, director of the Maryland Lottery. “Then the SWARC will review that. The momentum, the timeline, is really under their control. We are ready to go.”
The SWARC’s next meeting is scheduled for June 16, and the commission could offer a status update on the study at that point. As for when mobile betting might launch in Maryland, the timeline isn’t clear. Previous estimates suggested a possible launch by the start of football season, but it now seems more likely that mobile sportsbooks will go live during the 2022 football season rather than before Week 1.
While the mobile launch is moving slowly, that doesn’t mean Maryland is without legal sports betting options. Five casinos within the state offer retail wagering, giving Marylanders access to major sports betting operators like Barstool Sportsbook, BetMGM, Caesars, and FanDuel.
Additionally, four other entities have been awarded licenses by the SWARC but have yet to launch their retail operations. Riverboat-on-the-Potomac, which is partnered with PointsBet, is among the four expected to launch in coming months. Martin says he’s “optimistic” at least one of the four locations could launch its retail operation this summer.
The lottery, which administers final checks before a retail operation goes live, is waiting for those entities to be ready for final approval. The businesses dictate the timelines, and some of them don’t have sports betting backgrounds, so they’re moving deliberately.
“We’re very supportive and we’re doing as much as we can, but ultimately it is their call,” Martin said. “They would have hoped, I’m sure, to be up and running by now, but they’re making progress and we’re helping them and guiding them along the way.”
For bettors, the wait for mobile and additional retail options can be aggravating, but stakeholders hope Maryland’s sports betting industry flourishes once the lengthy wait ends.