Maryland Considers 2019 Sports Betting Approval via State Lottery

Maryland Sports Betting Law 2019

Sports bets would be taken by the Maryland Lottery instead of casino operators like the Horseshoe Baltimore (pictured).

Maryland lawmakers are exploring ways to legalize sports betting without the need for a state referendum in 2020. At least one prominent state politician believes Maryland could legalize sportsbooks within the next 90 days.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Upper Marlboro) said, “If we can find a way to do it without referendum, I’m certainly amenable to move forward this year.”

A 2008 casino legalization process won support through a constitutional amendment, but further gambling expansion needs a second constitutional amendment. Lawmakers believe a loophole exists that could allow Maryland to legalize sports betting sooner, though — regulate sports betting through the state lottery instead of private companies.

Legislators are quick to say they are looking at all the options, but if the state lottery option is available, then statewide vote might be needed after all. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Annapolis), Alexandra Hughes, said Busch is looking at all legislative options.

Larry Hogan Hints Big News is Coming

Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Annapolis) is a bit more skeptical about the possibility of legalizing sports betting this year, saying that Mike Miller’s and Michael Busch’s plans are “hypothetical”. At the same time, the popular governor who won re-election in November suggested that big news was coming before the early session of the Maryland legislature ends 90 days from now.

The two-term governor said, “The odds are good that we’re going to have sports betting. Something’s going to happen in the next 83 days, but there’s lots of ideas, and I have no idea exactly how it’s going to shake out.”

Mike Miller added a degree of caution, as he hinted at the realities of a controversial issue like gambling: “Unfortunately, there are going to be lawsuits no matter who does what.”

Anne Kaiser on Sports Betting Bill

Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Silver Springs), who chairs the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, said that a vote was likely to happen this year. Chairwoman Kaiser also said the bill could take a variety of forms before the General Assembly is through with it.

The Ways & Means chair said, “All the details are still out there so we don’t know, and then we don’t know if the option that everyone’s talking about — about going through the lottery — means it doesn’t go to the voters. That’s not definite, so everything’s still being talked about.”

Could the Lottery Regulate Sports Betting

Though the proposed sports betting bill would allow legalization in 2019 instead of 2021, it might have fatal flaws which would make it falter in the General Assembly. If the state lottery handles sports betting instead of private companies, that might mean bettors could make wagers through the official Maryland Lottery website, but perhaps not land-based casinos like MGM National Harbor, Horseshoe Baltimore, and Maryland Live!.

If so, then top gaming operators in the state like MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and the Cordish Cos. would oppose the bill in the Maryland legislature. Each would lobby the same politicians who supported the big land-based casinos in years past to kill a lottery-only bill. That would put tremendous pressure on Maryland lawmakers to wait until 2020.

Lottery Chief on Sports Betting

Maryland Lottery Director Gordon Medenica said the definition of “lottery betting” would have to be nailed down before any lotto-centric bill is passed. Medenica noted that most lottery tickets in the state are sold by third-party vendors, which might not work under the proposed sports betting legislation.

That might mean state employees would have to handle sports bets, an idea Gorden Medenica warned against. Medenica added, “We’re prepared as an agency — obviously, we were prepared a year ago — to embrace it, and we’re certainly keeping up with all of the developments in sports betting.”

The lottery director said Maryland might not gain as much time from a 2019 bill than some would think. Though a late-2020 referendum would mean implementation in 2021, he said that a combination of legal and logistical obstacles might delay lottery-based sports betting until early 2020.

Medenica said, “If that were to succeed, we would then still need to go into a procurement process, so it probably wouldn’t be able to hit the market until early 2020 anyway, and so we could probably gain a year in terms of when we could actually launch some real sports betting in the state.”