Sports betting could start up in Maryland by summer

Circa Casino Las Vegas
Posted at 12:15 PM, Nov 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-05 12:15:11-05

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Legalized sports betting in Maryland could start in the summer of next year after voters approved it on Election Day, but lawmakers still need to work out the details of how it will be implemented in the upcoming legislative session.

A separate constitutional amendment passed by voters to give the legislature more power in the state budget process won’t take effect until after Gov. Larry Hogan leaves office in 2023.

While all eight of Maryland’s U.S. House incumbents won reelection Tuesday, and Democrat Joe Biden won the heavily Democratic state’s 10 electoral votes in the presidential race, the results of the two statewide ballot questions have considerable fiscal ramifications for future years.

A comprehensive framework for sports betting passed unanimously earlier this year, but the coronavirus pandemic shortened the legislative session, and lawmakers asked voters to give the gambling expansion an up or down vote. That left the details on implementation to be worked out later.

Most of the state’s proceeds from sports betting — estimated to range between $20 million and $40 million — would go toward education, as required by legislation approved by the General Assembly to put sports betting on the ballot.

“It’s very important in this age of COVID, where the economy is still suffering, that any additional revenue we can get from sports betting will be helpful to helping to closing the budget gap around education,” said Sen. Craig Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored sports betting legislation.

Sports betting likely will be allowed at the state’s six casinos and at horse racing tracks. Zucker said online wagering probably will be authorized as well.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where the state wouldn’t allow it online,” he said.

Zucker said he believes wagering will at least be allowed on professional sports.

“What else is included and how those bets are made, that’s to be determined,” Zucker said. “I think the biggest obstacle that we were facing was: Do Marylanders approve it or not? And I think there was a resounding yes.”

Gordon Medenica, Maryland’s lottery director, said two years of consideration in the legislature has created a strong sense of how sports betting will be structured in the state.

“That’s given us an ability to get a head start on crafting the regulations, which is a pretty extensive legal-intensive thing about basically all of the rules of how these games and the sports betting will take place,” Medenica said Wednesday.

He said casinos and horse racing tracks are prepared to launch sports betting as soon as possible, because they mostly have contractual relationships with many of the largest sports betting providers.

South Dakota and Louisiana also approved sports betting Tuesday. That means more than half the nation could have sports betting by the end of next year, less than three years after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for all 50 states to adopt it if they chose.

Meanwhile, Maryland voters also approved a constitutional amendment to enable the legislature to increase, decrease or add items to the budget, as long as the changes don’t exceed the total proposed by the governor.

Under Maryland’s constitution, the governor has unusually strong budget powers. When the governor submits the state budget to the General Assembly each January, lawmakers can only cut from the proposal.

Maryland is the only state that endows its governor with such authority over the state budget. It dates to a 1916 constitutional amendment that voters approved after the state racked up big deficits.

Sen. James Rosapepe, a Democrat who sponsored legislation to put the issue on the ballot, said it will give locally elected officials more of a say in the state’s budget process.

“It’s going to change the ongoing dynamics of the annual budget process,” Rosapepe said.