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Government & Politics

Mobile sports wagering by Thanksgiving? It’s a safe bet.

Screens at BetMGM Sportsbook in National Harbor in December display odds on dozens of sporting events. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

More than two years after Maryland voters approved a sports gambling referendum, state officials finally appear poised to allow wagering via mobile device. The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission announced on Monday that it will consider 10 mobile wagering applications at its meeting on Wednesday.

Any applicants who are approved — and who satisfy a few final operational requirements — will be allowed to make their apps available to the public and accept online wagers. A date for that has not been set, though officials are hopeful of being ready by Thanksgiving, when three NFL games will be watched by tens of millions of Americans.

The 10 applicants up for a vote on Wednesday represent nearly all of the big-name players.

Maryland voters approved sports wagering by a 2-1 margin in 2020, but the rollout has been hampered by implementation. Wanting to avoid a repeat of medical cannabis, where white entrepreneurs scooped up all the licenses, state lawmakers crafted legislation in 2021 that sought to make Maryland’s sports wagering industry more diverse.

Regulators have struggled to balance the General Assembly’s goals against the state’s desire to bring the popular, and potentially lucrative, pastime out of the shadows. In a statement Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) claimed credit for pushing regulators to speed up the process.

“To reach this point, we have had to overcome countless legal, political, and bureaucratic delays that threatened to push back the launch past the Super Bowl next year,” he said. “It was completely unacceptable to me, and we spent months pressing for decisive action. Thanks to those efforts, and after repeated interventions by our administration, we now anticipate the launch of mobile sports betting this month…”

In-person sports betting launched a year ago, with the opening of a handful of bricks-and-mortar sportsbooks inside casinos. The level of wagering action is expected to skyrocket when online operators are given the all-clear. In states that have both in-person and mobile betting, online action accounts for as much as 90% of the handle.

Maryland Lottery & Gaming officials said they have been working closely with mobile operators and decided on a shotgun start in which the first wave of approved companies begin taking bets on the same day. “It just was the right thing to do, not only for players but for our partners,” said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin. “It just made a lot of sense to do it this way.”

The 10 to be considered on Wednesday are among 21 companies that have submitted applications. They are:

  • Arundel Amusements (Bingo World)
  • BetMGM Maryland Sports
  • Crown MD Online Gaming (DraftKings)
  • CZR Maryland Mobile Opportunity (Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, in partnership with Caesars Sportsbook)
  • Greenmount OTB
  • Long Shot’s
  • Maryland Stadium Sub (Washington Commanders)
  • PENN Maryland OSB (Hollywood Casino Perryville, in partnership with Barstool Sportsbook)
  • PPE Maryland Mobile (Live! Casino and Hotel, in partnership with FanDuel)
  • Riverboat on the Potomac

Even though mobile wagering is not yet legal, the industry’s biggest names have already invested millions of dollars on advertising, in the hopes of creating awareness and brand loyalty. The big-name firms offer incentives to lure bettors to download their app and place initial wagers.

By launching online betting now, the state is poised to capitalize on the second half of the NFL season and the playoffs, the culmination of the college football season, and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in March.

The industry site PlayMaryland.com estimates that more than $4 billion will be wagered in the state in 2023, a sum that would generate nearly $75 million in tax revenue. Martin pegged the likely boost to the state treasury at closer to $30 million.

Maryland is home to three major-league sports teams and is one of the wealthiest states in the nation. Analysts will be closely watching the rollout of online wagering here.

“We’re really excited about the potential that the Maryland marketplace has,” Martin said. “From our lottery and gaming business, our traditional businesses, we perform very well and over-index in a lot of categories around the country. And that’s going to carry over, I’m confident, in the sports wagering marketplace.”