With slot machines flashing and victory bells ringing in the background, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) waved a small slip of paper at the MGM National Harbor casino on Thursday — he had just placed the first legal sports bet in Maryland.
“This is a win, win for Maryland.” Hogan said. “The only loser is MGM because they’re going to have to pay me more than 20 grand when I hit this one.”
Though it’s a long shot, Hogan’s bet marks the end of a protracted battle to legalize sports betting in Maryland, one of the last states in the region to do so. It also marks the beginning of a complex rollout process as the state navigates an industry that is projected to bring in about $100 million annually once fully up and running.
“We’ve been behind. People have been betting in our neighboring states and in other places,” Hogan said. “It’s been a long time coming, and I think it’s going to be good.”
Sports betting has been authorized in 30 states and D.C., and has grown to be a multibillion-dollar industry since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision stuck down a congressional ban that had restricted sports wagering.
The proposition of legalized sports betting opened a route for state governments to tax and regulate the long-standing practice of putting money on games. For Maryland, that means bringing in an estimated $15 million a year in state revenue to be used for education programs, according to a policy analysis.
In 2020, Maryland voters approved a ballot question to allow sports betting in the state. Then, earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a law setting the framework for the industry.
Five casinos — MGM, Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover and Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin — were the first approved by the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission in November to begin taking wagers after controlled demonstrations.
The Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore and the Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover plan to open in-person sports betting on Friday.
On Wednesday, the commission approved two additional locations, Riverboat on the Potomac and Long Shot’s in Frederick, bringing the total to seven.
The commission is a body, separate from the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, that was formed under the new law and tasked in part with ensuring that minority- and female-owned businesses are not shut out and that there is diversity within the industry. It’s a provision that was pushed by lawmakers who worried that large casinos and national giants with a head start would scoop business from local owners hoping to get into the industry.
The law named 17 facilities that were given the first chance to apply and includes plans to offer dozens more in-person betting licenses, along with eventually offering online and mobile betting licenses, though that process has not yet been established.
In Maryland, like many other states, sports betting is managed and regulated by the state’s lottery arm. All sports wagering licensees have to pay an application fee to the state, ranging from $2 million for the largest groups to $50,000 for the smallest. For comparison, in the District, the highest level of fees for a five-year license is set at $500,000, which lottery officials have said was too low to balance the cost of regulating the sportsbooks.
All sports wagering licensees in Maryland will pay 15 percent of the gross revenue from sports wagering to the state, and most of that money will be dedicated to public education programs that are part of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund.
But the ability to go an place bets in person is just one step in the process. For many states that already have an established sports betting industry, a large bulk of revenue comes from online and app-based betting, especially from industry giants such as FanDuel and DraftKings.
It’s been a somewhat slow-moving process to get the first seven licenses approved in Maryland, especially for the casinos that were eager to start taking wagers in time for the National Football League season — one of the busiest and most profitable betting seasons.
“We had to get it done before playoffs to make a lot of money. Placing bets between now and March Madness is going to be great,” Hogan said. “Hopefully we’ll take it to the next level as quickly as possible and get the online stuff up and running.”
Hogan was joined Thursday by former Washington Football Team player Joe Theismann and Prince George’s County Council Chair Calvin S. Hawkins II, who both placed bets.
Theismann put his money on a historic opportunity to see the New England Patriots play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. Hawkins kept his bet more local and immediate, betting on the Washington Football Team beating the Dallas Cowboys this weekend.
“People have been betting on games for a long, long time,” Theismann said. “And now it’s just become legalized.”