Bill Authorising Sports Betting Vote In Maryland Passes Into Law

In November, Maryland voters will have a final say on legalising sport betting after Gov. Larry Hogan let laws calling for the referendum become law without his signature.

Hogan, who is gradually reopening Maryland, vetoed several key bills on Thursday, but allowed the sports betting bill and a bill authorising the renovation of Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, home to the Triple Crown’s Preakness, to pass into law.

The General Assembly of Maryland approved the sports betting bill in mid-March, before adjourning its legislative session weeks early due to the coronavirus pandemic. If voters support the November bill, the legislature will have to hammer out laws, tax rates and issuance of licences and how sports betting will be enforced.

If all this happens next legislative session, Maryland could make its first bet in 2021 on sports.

The sports betting voter referendum is mandated by Maryland law. According to the revised House edition, the referendum issue will be phrased to suggest that legalising sports betting should increase educational revenue. The question reads: “Do you favour the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorise sports and event betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”

That issue is much more straight forward than the issue that went before November’s Colorado voters. Proposition DD — the referendum in Colorado — had ambiguous language prior to sports betting, which listed tax rises and water reclamation projects. After Arkansas and Colorado, Maryland could become the third state to legalise sports betting through a voter referendum. In its 64 parishes in November, Louisiana is also debating legislation which would bring the issue of legalising sports betting before voters.

A vote-referendum in Maryland is not a sure thing. A February poll by Goucher College in Baltimore found 47 percent of Maryland residents supported increasing gambling to allow online sports betting in Maryland and 43 percent opposed it. Additionally, 45 percent supported expanding gambling to allow sports betting on Maryland’s race tracks, casinos or stadiums, while 49 percent opposed.

While Maryland has had casino gambling for years, when it comes to sports betting and other gaming options it has fallen behind neighbouring Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia and Delaware. Also, Virginia has allowed sports betting and is aiming to get it in effect by the end of 2020. Washington, D.C., expected to launch sports betting by the end of March, but was delaying the launch due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to sports betting, online casino gaming is allowed by Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. In these three states too, online poker sites are legal. The expansion of Maryland gaming didn’t include online casino and poker.