Sports Betting Will Go to Ballot in November

Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Maryland voters will decide in November whether to legalize gambling on sporting events. On Wednesday, the final day of this year’s truncated legislative session, the General Assembly approved a measure placing a referendum on the fall ballot.

But what lawmakers signed-off on leaves many of the key operational details for another day.

That’s because the House of Delegates balked at the bill that passed in the Senate.

The original version, sponsored by Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery) would have allowed betting on sports at nine locations — the state’s largest race tracks, six casinos and FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. It would also have allowed venues with on-site betting licenses to operate an online betting app that would let Marylanders place wagers from anywhere in the state, including from their homes.

The House of Delegates refused to accept the Senate’s vision for sports gaming, but was willing to support a stripped down measure as part of a push to generate funds for the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reforms.

 

There’s a small chance that lawmakers could take up the issue again in May, if plans for a one-week special session come together as legislative leaders hope.
More likely, details about how Maryland would roll out sports gambling would be left to a future General Assembly –– assuming voters approve of the ballot initiative in November.

That would trigger an intense period of lobbying by those looking for a slice of the action. Representatives from the state’s race tracks and casinos lobbied on SB 4 throughout the 2020 session in an effort to influence the final product.

Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder popped up unexpectedly in Annapolis as part of his bid to get in on the action. Snyder was reportedly willing to commit to build a new stadium in Prince George’s County in exchange for a gambling license.

The Redskins currently play in Landover at FedEx Field, a facility that is oversized by modern standards and humdrum as NFL stadiums go.

If Baltimore’s Orioles and Ravens want a gambling license, their interest never became apparent, even though both teams are amply represented in the capital.

Members of the Senate appeared miffed by the House’s refusal to accept the original version of SB 4.

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Harford) stood to question Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard) about the amended bill late on the legislature’s final day.

“So, what does the bill do now?” Jennings asked.

Before Guzzone could answer, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) quipped, “Not much.”

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, legislative analysts estimated that sports gambling would take in $21 million a year. It would seem unlikely that Maryland residents will be of a mind to risk money on sporting events during a time of intense economic uncertainty.

Maryland is surrounded by states that already have approved sports wagering, however.

The Senate approved SB 4 on a vote of 45-0. In the House the vote was 129-3.

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