Maryland Voters Support Sports Betting, But Their Voices Won’t Be Heard Until 2020

Posted on: November 13, 2018, 11:33h. 

Last updated on: January 14, 2019, 11:22h.

Maryland voters want sports betting legalized, but state law, which requires any form of gambling expansion to be approved through a ballot referendum, will keep the issue at bay until at least 2020.

sports betting Maryland referendum
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (right) won re-election last week, but voters weren’t asked if they support sports betting while in their polling booths. (Image: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

A poll released this week by the University of Maryland and Washington Post finds that 53 percent of registered voters approve of making betting on professional sporting events legal in the state. Thirty-three percent said they disapprove.

The study revealed that younger people are more likely to back sports betting authorization, with seven out of 10 under the age of 40 lending their support. That’s compared to fewer than four out of 10 in the 65 and over age category.

The US Supreme Court ruled in May that the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that banned sports betting in all but four states was in violation of the Constitution. The decision gave sports betting powers back to the states, and Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia, Mississippi, and New Mexico have already joined Nevada in permitting full-fledged sports gambling.

Turtle Pace

A slim majority of Maryland voters might support sports betting, but placing legal regulated wagers on the home team Terrapins from inside the state is at least two years away.

Last week, Maryland voters re-elected Governor Larry Hogan (R) and Senator Ben Cardin (D). They also backed an amendment for the state education system to receive supplemental tax revenue generated by slot machines.

What they didn’t decide on was sports gambling. The Maryland General Assembly failed to pass a measure in time to put the issue before voters for the November 2018 election, and that means it will be a minimum of two years before residents might have their say.

To legalize sports betting, the General Assembly must approve of a ballot question, and then voters need to back with measure with a simple majority. A sports gambling bill passed the House of Delegates following the SCOTUS repeal, but it failed to advance in the upper chamber.

Maryland’s next scheduled election is November 2020, meaning the earliest a regulated bet might be placed is presumably sometime in 2021.

By that time, Maryland could very well be surrounded by states where sports betting is legal. Delaware and West Virginia are already up and running, Pennsylvania is in the process of issuing sports betting licenses to its casinos, and lawmakers in Virginia and DC are expected to consider such measures in the coming months.

Gambling Amendment History

Maryland voters have cast two historic votes related to gaming.

Amid the US recession in 2008, voters were asked if they wanted to legalize slot machines at five casinos. Tax revenue from the gaming devices would largely be earmarked for public education. The 2008 gaming referendum passed with 58.7 percent of voters in support.

In 2012, Marylanders were asked if they support allowing the casinos to incorporate table games, and authorize a sixth casino in Prince George County near DC. The question passed with 51.9 percent of voters answering “yes.”

The Prince George County casino license would be issued to MGM Resorts. The $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor opened in December of 2016.