As Maryland lawmakers move closer to legalizing sports betting in the state, a representative for the Washington Redskins, which is shopping for a new stadium somewhere in the region, pledged Tuesday that the team would partner with a minority-owned operator if it is granted permission to have a sports gaming operation at FedEx Field.
Justin Ross, a former state legislator who is now a lobbyist for the football team, told the House Ways and Means Committee that the Redskins are committed to hiring a minority firm to run the sports book at FedEx Field or any future stadium where the team may play in Maryland.
Ross’s pledge came during a hearing on a bill that would authorize a referendum vote this fall on whether to bring sports gambling to the Free State.
“The Washington Redskins are committed to offering meaningful minority equity investment opportunities as it relates to sports betting at FedEx Field,” he said.
Once considered a controversial measure, the bill is now seen as increasingly likely to pass, as legislators search for extra revenue to fund the Kirwan Commission’s comprehensive education reform proposal. But even with the bill’s brighter prospects, many details need to be worked out, and lawmakers of color have been urging their colleagues to add language to the legislation that would require certain commitments for minority-owned businesses to be awarded some of the sports gaming contracts around the state.
The Redskins’ pledge was applauded by leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus.
“I think that’s a great first step — it’s good to see that [Redskins owner] Dan Snyder wants to move in that direction, said Del. Darryl Barnes (D-Prince George’s), the LBC chairman.
Black Caucus members are still smarting from minority businesses being completely shut out a few years ago when the state awarded 15 initial contracts to dispense medical cannabis in the state. As a consequence, they are pressing for more commitments from the state to award some percentage of the sports betting licenses to minority-owned contractors.
“This reminds me of the medical cannabis industry,” Barnes said.
He added that he and some of his colleagues have received commitments from the sports gaming legislation’s chief sponsor, Del. Eric Ebersole (D-Baltimore and Howard), to add language in the bill with some targets for minority-owned sports gambling contracts.
Coincidentally or not, the Redskins issued their pledge on the same day as the 10th annual Minority Business Enterprise conference in Annapolis, which is sponsored in part by members of the Black Caucus (working this year in cooperation with the Latino Caucus and the Asian-Pacific Islander Caucus).
The gathering attracted several large employers and minority contractors in the state.
As lawmakers contemplate allowing sports betting in Maryland, they have yet to settle on the number and location of betting venues. The Senate bill envisions licenses for the state’s six casinos along with an online platform, while the House bill enables sports gaming at the six casinos, online, and at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park race track, Ebersole said.
“We tried to find a sweet spot,” he said. “Our bill is a little larger in terms of access. Our legislation would bring in a little more revenue for the state.”