Posted on: November 18, 2021, 11:26h. 

Last updated on: November 18, 2021, 11:26h.

Maryland sports betting is at long last almost here, as five of the state’s commercial casinos finally received formal approval to conduct such expanded gambling at their brick-and-mortar properties.

Maryland sports betting licenses SWARC
Sports bettors will soon be welcome in Maryland after the state approved five operating licenses. Sportsbooks will first open at five brick-and-mortar casinos. (Image: WikiMedia)

After months of delay, the Sports Wagering Application and Review Commission (SWARC) gave its blessing to MGM National Harbor, Live! Casino Hotel, Horseshoe Baltimore, Hollywood Casino Perryville, and Ocean Downs. SWARC is tasked with reviewing each sportsbook tender from the dozens of expected applicants.

With the SWARC recommendation that the five casinos are fit to operate sportsbooks, the final step is the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission (MLGCC) issuing each casino a sports wagering permit. The lottery agency will do so after it receives the $500,000 one-time upfront fee from each casino.

SWARC has faced criticism recently, including from the casinos as well as from Gov. Larry Hogan (R), for not more quickly handling its reviews of the casino sportsbook applications.

Diversity Dilemma

Maryland’s sports betting law is unlike any other in the more than two-dozen states that have decided to legalize such gambling following the 2018 Supreme Court decision that gave them the freedom to do so.

Maryland lawmakers sought to allow a diverse group of stakeholders to enter into its regulated sports betting industry. Along with sports betting licenses earmarked for the state’s six casinos (Rocky Gap Casino hasn’t yet applied for sportsbook privileges), professional sports stadiums, horse racetracks, and state fairgrounds, Maryland has reserved sports betting permits for minority- and women-owned small businesses.

Businesses such as convenience stores that have fewer than 25 employees and $3 million in annual revenue can apply for, and upon approval, receive sports betting licenses for as little as $50,000. Such establishments will partner with experienced third-party operators like DraftKings to incorporate self-service sports betting kiosks, and share in the subsequent revenue.

As many as 60 mobile and small business licenses are available, which presents a heavy load of applications for SWARC to review. The casinos argued that they are long-established operators in the state, and therefore the lengthy delay in SWARC issuing their approvals was unreasonable.

Unfair Advantage?

At yesterday’s SWARC meeting, there appeared to be some hesitancy among certain commissioners in allowing the casinos to begin their sportsbook operations ahead of small businesses.

I’m troubled that we don’t have more minority interest at the ready,” declared SWARC Commissioner Rosie Allen-Herring.

Commissioner Frank Turner said it would make sense to issue the licenses simultaneously. “I feel to a certain degree that I’m being rushed,” he explained.

Despite the hesitation, SWARC voted 5-2 to recommend that the five casinos be given their sportsbook licenses. Hogan celebrated the outcome.

“We are pleased that the legislature’s sports wagering commission has finally acted to approve these licenses,” the governor said in a tweet. “Our administration will continue to work to get sports betting up and running in Maryland as quickly as possible.”

Gross revenue from sports betting will be subjected to a 15 percent tax. Most of that money will be directed towards public schools.

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