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Government & Politics

House Passes Sports Betting, Advances State Song Repeal

The Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The House of Delegates approved a bill to establish a sports gaming industry in Maryland on Thursday, with little discussion or opposition.

House Bill 940, sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), passed the chamber 130-9 and moves on to the Senate.

The bill would allow in-person sports wagering at 22 locations including the state’s six casinos, professional sports venues, the Maryland Jockey Club, the State Fairgrounds and the Riverboat on the Potomac in Charles County. The 10 remaining in-person licenses would be awarded through competitive bids administered by the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, which could consider any “remedial measures” necessary to advantage minority- and women-owned businesses.

Fifteen mobile licenses are included in the bill for companies that want to accept bets on phones and other devices.

Del. Robin L. Grammer Jr. (R-Baltimore County) was the only lawmaker to discuss the bill before its final passage Thursday. Grammer said he’d hoped the bill would have created more accessibility for smaller businesses.

The bill outlines application fees of $250,000 for a Class A license, $50,000 for a Class B license, and $500,000 for a mobile sports wagering license. Licensees would retain up to 85% of proceeds from sports wagering.

State revenue from the bill is estimated at nearly $16 million next year, growing to $19 million in five years.

Maryland is playing catch-up to neighboring states — like Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey, along with Washington, D.C. — that already allow legalized sports betting.

State song repeal moves forward

The House also gave preliminary approval Thursday to a bill, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Lower Shore), that would repeal “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state’s official song.

The song, which was composed during the Civil War by a Confederate sympathizer, James Ryder Randall, has enjoyed its status as a state symbol since 1939.

Lawmakers and advocates have pressed for years to repeal the official designation of the song, which refers to “Northern scum” and calls President Abraham Lincoln a despot and a tyrant.

The House vote is a major development in the push for repeal; iterations of a repeal bill have passed the Senate in 2016 and 2018, but stalled in the House.

The bill was passed out of the Health and Government Operations Committee earlier this week on a party-line vote, with Republicans opposed to the repeal. But there was no debate on the measure as it reached the House floor, and it received preliminary approval from the chamber on a voice vote. A final vote could come Friday.

The House vote came hours before a hearing on similar legislation in the Senate, where both Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) and the Maryland State Archives are sponsoring repeal bills.

Supporters who testified in the Senate include former State Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery), who supported a repeal effort more than 25 years ago, and retired State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse.

State Archivist Timothy C. Baker said it was part of his agency’s role to advise lawmakers on official state designations, and that he supported a repeal.

“Symbols and designations are profoundly meaningful. Not only do they help define who we are, they signal to the world what matters to us, what is most important,” he said.

“…We have known for a long time the origins of this song. The lyrics are offensive. They are racist. They are a call to arms against our own country. They do not reflect who we are, or what we aspire to be,” Baker said. “The state song must go.”

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House Passes Sports Betting, Advances State Song Repeal