Even Gov. Hogan is ready for Maryland online sports betting to launch

Earlier this week, our own Martin Lycka lamented the epic waiting periods that can accompany regulations. The same sentiment applies to the often long waits between legislation and launch in a new market.

Maryland voters approved sports betting via referendum in November 2020. The legislature pushed through a bill in May 2021. Over a year later, the state has yet to take a bet online. Retail betting did launch in December of last year at five commercial casinos around the state.

One person running out of patience regarding the matter is Gov. Larry Hogan. On Wednesday he issued a letter to state regulators expressing his concern about their slow progress. He was very clear about what he wanted, which was a launch in time to capitalize on the 2022 NFL season. Hogan wrote:

“I write to you today to urge the Sports Wagering Application Review Committee (SWARC) to act immediately so that mobile sports wagering can begin in the State of Maryland before the start of the National Football League (NFL) regular season on Sept. 8, 2022. To make the target date achievable, it is imperative that you immediately accelerate and intensify your efforts.”

Hogan also took a swipe at SWARC and the complicated sports betting legislation the state passed. He wrote: “Instead of decisive action to implement the voters’ decision, you have allowed the process to stagnate and become mired in overly bureaucratic procedures that have needlessly delayed the state’s ability to maximize the revenue potential of this emerging industry.”

One legal requirement bogging down the process is a mandated study on potential diversity hurdles in the market. The state’s sports betting legislation set up a very broad industry in the state, with room for up to 60 operators and specific measures to incentivize inclusivity. The study was part of the legislative package, but its completion is holding up other pieces of the regulatory process.

SWARC meets on Thursday, and Hogan has some demands of what the group needs to produce:

  • Prioritization of licenses for existing retail operators
  • Provide a clear timeline to launch in 2022
  • The immediate release of the latest draft of regulations to begin the public comment period
  • Replicate the process used to license retail sportsbooks for mobile betting

When it comes to licensing and regulating state sports betting markets, there is no clear answer on the correct timeline from legislation to launch. Some states like Arizona, Indiana, and Colorado managed to execute the process in less than three months.

However, just this week Colorado auditors chastised the Gaming Commission for the rushed and incomplete process of issuing temporary licenses to sports betting operators. Like Maryland, Colorado adopted a comparatively open sports betting market that features over 30 operators, including small operators that have a hard time getting into other markets.

Maryland legislators were particularly focused on involving small operators in state sports betting when they drafted legislation. Colorado as well as Tennessee are prime examples of the pitfalls that can come with an attempt to bring local and independent operators into a marketplace.

Regulators and operators are trying to find a common ground between five weeks and nearly two years to mobilize a state gambling industry. While it is easy to identify the extremes, best practices appear to still be something up for debate.