Prince George’s Officials Prod State to Award Sports Wagering Licenses

The MGM National Harbor casino in Prince George’s County is one of five casinos the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission determined are qualified to win a sports betting license. Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for MGM National Harbor.

The Prince George’s County Council is urging the state to grant a sportsbook license to one of the county’s largest employers — the casino at MGM National Harbor — and four other gambling venues.

MGM Resorts International, the glittering facility on the banks of the Potomac River in Oxon Hill, is one of five casinos to win tentative approval from the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.

But the five have run into a roadblock. A second panel whose sign-off is required, the newly created Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), has declined to act on the casinos’ bids since receiving them in October.

The panel has been tight-lipped about its unwillingness to green-light the applications, all of which were approved by the gaming control commission under an “alternative licensing standard” established by the General Assembly this year.

The National Football League season, the high-point for sports wagering in the U.S., is half over, and the Prince George’s Council, in a letter to the SWARC, urged it to give all five casinos the go-ahead when it meets on Thursday.

“As the Sports Wagering industry is established in Maryland, the County Council looks forward to capturing the revenues that are currently being lost,” lawmakers wrote. “Our residents continue to make their wagers in surrounding jurisdictions or in the illegal market. Every day we allow these bets to be made elsewhere, we lose revenue that could be coming back to our state and county.”

At a recent reception at the resort, county officials were able to see their first look at the sportsbook area that MGM has constructed in anticipation of their license being granted.

“MGM National Harbor has more than 60 people ready to work, the majority of whom are minorities and Prince George’s residents, in what can be one of the premier sports betting locations in the nation,” officials told the panel.

The council said it has a “positive” relationship with MGM, which entered into a “Community Benefits Agreement” when it built the $1.4 billion facility near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Lawmakers called MGM “the centerpiece for entertainment in the region and one of Prince George’s County’s top taxpayers.”

Lawmakers said 40% of construction was completed by minority-owned firms and that nearly half of the resort’s workers reside in the county. Just shy of 90% identify as people of color, the council wrote.

Earlier this week, three casinos, including MGM Resorts International, sent a joint letter to the SWARC, asking that all five venues approved by the lottery and gaming commission receive their second approval as well.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has repeatedly voiced his frustration with the commission, accusing the panel of frittering away a lucrative period on the sports betting calendar.

The SWARC has a lengthy agenda for its Thursday session that includes consideration of licenses to “Qualified Sports Wagering Facility Applicants.” A similar item was on the panel’s Nov. 3 agenda but no vote was held. Their Oct. 14 meeting was scrubbed without explanation.

State lawmakers — led by Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and the Legislative Black Caucus — have said for years they want the sports wagering industry in Maryland rolled out in a manner that gives Black- and female-owned companies an equal playing field.

“The state is going to do what the state is going to do,” said Councilmember Todd Turner (D). “But the council wanted to weigh in and say we’re missing this opportunity that would benefit not only the state of Maryland but Prince George’s County as well.”

Eight of the county council’s ten members (there is one vacancy) are Black and/or Latino.

John Erzen, deputy chief of staff for County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), said she supports the council’s decision to prod the SWARC into action.

“We agree with the letter sent by the Council and hope to see MGM’s license approved by the Commission,” he said.

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