Why did it take so long to start online sports betting in Maryland?

After a much-anticipated wait, Maryland’s online sportsbook is live after Wednesday’s launch.

To date, the dubious award belongs to Maryland’s longest delay in launching online sports betting. IIt took two years from the time Maryland voters passed the Sports Betting Act to mobile betting finally going live.

Here is a brief timeline of sports betting licensing in Maryland:

  • Marylanders Approved Sports Betting November 2020.
  • Retail sports betting was launched on December 9, 2021 at five casino locations.
  • Online betting started on November 23, 2022.

Why did it take Maryland so long to launch online sportsbook?

What happened after sports betting was approved by voters in 2020?

Normally, when voters vote to authorize sports betting in a state, the House of Representatives and the governor-elect approve and sign legislation within a few months.

In the case of Maryland, the House of Representatives took four months (April 2021) to approve and Gov. Hogan five months (May 2021) to sign House Bill 940.

The Maryland Lotteries and Gaming Commission then outsourced consultants to create a fair plan for smaller businesses. Typically, states do not hire consultants to help them formulate sports betting regulations.

The November 2020 electoral referendum approved by Maryland voters required the Maryland Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) to investigate market incorporation opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses.

“Our law was much broader than that of any other jurisdiction, so it really isn’t a fair comparison,” John Martin, director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming, told The Action Network in April. “If we had the same rules as every other state, we would probably be up and running by now.”

Maryland officials wanted to create their own legal framework, which of course took longer to create. The state wanted to prioritize minority and women-owned businesses, but failed to allocate sufficient resources to help these businesses get off the ground.

Implementing an incubator that provides management and financial training for smaller companies could have helped streamline this process. No such program was established, preventing the success of minority and women-owned businesses. As a result, in July 2021, lawmakers repealed the equity and minority requirements set for a fair sports betting market.

Later in the year, on November 18, 2021, the Maryland Lottery selected five retail sports betting locations: Hollywood Casino, Horseshoe Casino, MGM National Harbor, Live! Casino & Hotel and Ocean Downs Casino. Retail sportsbook officially went live in Maryland a month later.

Frustrations mount as progress is slow in 2022

It took between September 2021 and August 2022 for SWARC to receive the disparity study from the Attorney General’s Office. It was submitted to SWARC on August 19th. During this time, SWARC sent out surveys to potential sports betting operators to find out how they would integrate equity into their business.

After reviewing the study, it said: “SWARC is unable to use race and/or gender-specific criteria when evaluating applicants.”

The study was reviewed in detail and applicants were considered if their company was at least 5% owned by “individuals with PNW (net personal net worth) not exceeding $1.847 million.”

At the end of August, SWARC set up a public comment period until September 27th. SWARC had the responsibility of accepting and considering input from residents in the permitting process. Sportsbook operators applying to participate were asked to create a legitimate diversity plan, which SWARC had to approve. This was filed on September 2nd. SWARC held a meeting on October 19th to discuss and implement any changes from the public comments pending the sportsbook announcement on October 31st.

During this process, the public criticized the delayed response to the state’s introduction of sports betting, leading to Hogan issuing a public letter to regulators in June calling for swift action to allow online sports betting to be closed before the start of the NFL season could go live in 2022.

“I realize this continued delay is the by-product of overly complex legislation that has been distorted to appease stakeholders and organizations,” Hogan said. “The remainder of the heist is due to bureaucratic hurdles and legal obstacles set up by the attorney general’s office.”

The breakthrough in sports betting

After an extended period of silence, Maryland regulators delivered a long-awaited update the day after Hogan’s letter, though it wasn’t as thorough as some had hoped.

“I understand that many are frustrated that the process related to the issuance of mobile sports betting licenses in Maryland was time-consuming,” said SWARC Chairman Thomas Brandt. “I also want everyone to know that SWARC and its support team have worked as diligently and consciously as possible under the Maryland Sports Betting Act, which we are charged with administering.”

A few months later, in September, Maryland regulators finally issued their most definitive update of the year when SWARC decided to let online sportsbooks start accepting bets as soon as they’re licensed, rather than waiting to launch together allow.

“We all know that the public demands sports betting. We’re getting comments as to why it didn’t start every day,” said Jim Nielsen, deputy director and chief operating officer of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

Then, in October, SWARC confirmed that online sports betting would begin between November 21st and December 5th. The outcome played out as announced when online sports betting finally launched in Maryland on Wednesday.

Seven sportsbooks across the state opened their virtual doors at 9 a.m. EST on Wednesday. The seven live sportsbooks to launch online sports betting in Maryland are:

Betfred, betPARX and Fanatics are scheduled to go live early next year.

According to SWARC, 21 mobile license applications were submitted in the first application window, meaning the group has another 11 applications to consider. SWARC has not yet revealed the names of these operators, but they may issue more licenses when the group meets again on December 14.

Outlook on online sports betting in Maryland

Maryland has the potential to become one of the leading sports betting markets in North America. Starting revenue is expected to get a boost from the 2022 World Cup and the NFL’s Thanksgiving games.

Maryland’s advantage is a population of nearly 6.3 million and 700,000 people in DC can easily travel to the MD state lines to place their online bets with more legal sportsbooks. Maryland and DC residents have the top 10 highest incomes in the US. Maryland also possesses the fourth highest median income in the US, making it a premier sports betting destination for sports betting.

For more information on how sports betting started in Maryland, check out our extensive resource list:

All sports betting offers and promotions in Maryland

A simple 4 step guide to starting sports betting in Maryland

The 10 sportsbooks already licensed in Maryland

Why Maryland will be a top state for sports betting

Estimated sports betting revenue from online betting in Maryland

Where Maryland Tax Revenue Will Go

Sports Betting Rules in Maryland

Maryland’s Unique Sports Betting Launch Explained

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