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by Dan Katz

Decision is now up to Maryland voters

The Maryland Senate unanimously approved legislation on Wednesday that would legalize sports betting in the state. Should Governor Larry Hogan sign the bill, the decision would then be put to the Maryland voters via a November ballot referendum.

SB0004 was introduced in early January and passed the Senate by a 47-0 vote on March 10th. It then went to the House of Delegates, which stripped the bill of almost all its language before passing it, 129-3.

Senators were not thrilled with the changes, but because the legislative session was ending early due to the coronavirus pandemic, they passed it, 45-0.

What was in the Senate’s version of the bill?

The original Senate bill included all the licensing rules and implementation structure. Sports betting licenses would have been available for Maryland’s four casinos, three racetracks, and FedExField, home of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Both brick-and-mortar and mobile betting would have been permitted.

The inclusion of the Washington Redskins was in part to combat the Virginia sports betting bill that passed earlier this month. The Virginia bill stipulates that a professional sports team that moves to the state will receive preference in the licensing process. Though the Redskins are a “Washington” team, they are located in Maryland, but are considering constructing a new stadium nearby in Virginia.

Initial licensing fees would have ranged from $1.5 million to $2.5 million. Renewal fees would have been 25 percent of the initial fee every five years. Sports betting revenues would have been taxed at 20 percent. 19 percent would be earmarked for the Education Trust Fund, with the rest going to a Small, Minority, and Women-Owned Business Account.

The language of the referendum on the November ballot that was added by the House still references the use of sports betting taxes for education:

Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and event betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?

House Delegates want minority licensing consideration

Time was a major reason why the House eliminated most of the text from the Senate bill. Delegates wanted to go over it in more detail and make changes, but just didn’t have the time to do it. They still wanted to give sports betting the thumbs up and put it to the voters, so they passed it as just a skeleton bill. Once voters approve of the referendum, lawmakers can then discuss the implementation portion. First things first, essentially.

One part of the bill that Delegates wanted to change was the eligible licensees. Delegate Nick Mosby, in particular, pushed for a bill that did not specify who could apply for a license, instead wanting to have more in-depth discussions after the citizens pass the referendum.

Of particular concern to Mosby was that rich, white males would have been the primary beneficiaries of sports betting licenses.

“It just compounded the concentration of wealth by limiting competition,” Mosby told the Baltimore Sun. “They were literally going to give licenses to individuals who are already seated around the table.”

To that end, the House added the requirement of a Minority Business Enterprise Disparity Study to the bill. The Maryland Department of Transportation and the State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency would commission the study, which would evaluate whether or not minorities or women are at an inherent disadvantage in the sports betting industry. If it is determined that they are, lawmakers would be urged to create mechanisms in the licensing process to give underrepresented groups a leg up.

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