Maryland Sports Betting Buzzer-Beater: Bill Passes on Final Session Day Before Early Adjournment

Posted on: March 18, 2020, 03:23h. 

Last updated on: March 18, 2020, 03:46h.

A Maryland sports betting referendum will likely go before voters this November during the 2020 general election.

Maryland sports betting legislation
Maryland’s sports betting bill passed the General Assembly just in the nick of time. (Image: Patrick Semansky/AP)

After major amendments to Senate Bill 4, the Maryland House on Tuesday voted 129-3 in favor of the legislation. Today, the Senate quickly and unanimously approved the edits, which now sends the bill to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk.

The General Assembly is ending its regular session early – today, March 18 – because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hogan is expected to sign the bill, which would then put the sports betting issue before voters in November. If a simple majority backs the ballot question, the Maryland Constitution will be amended and sports betting added to the state’s list of authorized gambling activities.

SB 4 was introduced by Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery), and cosponsored by five other state Senate Democrats, plus one Republican.

Bill Basics

With both the federal and state government urging people to avoid crowds and practice social distancing, Maryland lawmakers on Sunday voted to end its session early. It says it will consider a special session in the last week of May.

To make sure voters will have their chance to legalize or reject sports betting come November, the House made vast changes to SB 4 to make it more appealing in the lower chamber.

The amendments included removing details on initial licensing fees. Previous versions of the bill called for the state’s three full-scale casinos – MGM National Harbor, Maryland Live!, and Horseshoe Baltimore – to pay $2.5 million each for their sports betting permit. The three smaller resort casinos, plus the state’s three horse racetracks, would have paid $1.5 million.

The suggested 20 percent tax on sports betting gross gaming revenue (GGR) was also removed.

The lawmakers favored a stripped down version, with specific regulations to be decided at a later point should the ballot referendum pass. However, SB 4 maintains that mobile sports betting would be permitted, and college games, including those involving state schools, would be allowed with voter backing.

Mobile betting is critical to a robust sports gambling market. For instance, of the more than $4.58 billion wagered on sports in New Jersey last year, over $3.8 billion – or nearly 84 percent – was placed remotely.

Maryland’s six casinos won a record $1.757 billion last year. But Horseshoe Baltimore has struggled since the introduction of MGM National Harbor. A legal sportsbook at the Caesars-owned property near the Ravens and Orioles stadiums could help lure fans to the casino.

Referendum Odds

Sports betting is operational in 16 states, including Maryland’s neighbors Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Five additional states have passed sports gambling regulations, but operations haven’t yet commenced.

Maryland’s casinos and horse racetracks hope to join that expanding bunch. But the odds of Old Line State voters approving the gambling activity are relatively even.

A poll released last month from Goucher College found that 49 percent of respondents opposed allowing casinos and racetracks to incorporate sportsbooks into their venues. Forty-five percent were in support, and six percent undecided.