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Maryland’s mobile sports betting industry starts Wednesday

Seven apps will allow online wagers from anywhere in the state, with proceeds funding an education expansion

Maryland's mobile sports betting is getting underway. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Maryland’s mobile sports betting industry will launch Wednesday morning after a years-long delay — just in time for a bonanza of pro and college football games and World Cup soccer action.

Regulators approved seven apps to start taking wagers anywhere within the state’s borders beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Many companies, including several industry leaders dominant in other states, started offering money this week to entice customers to sign up. Some have promised $1,000 in free bets to people who lose on their first wager.

The crowded and highly competitive sports betting industry has led companies to spend billions in marketing and freebies rushing to be gamblers’ favorite in new markets. Maryland placed no limit on how much cash the companies can give away to attract new customers in their first year, state officials said.

Virginia bettors already have a suite of options, including some companies that will soon operate in Maryland too. D.C.’s publicly managed platform — the region’s first to launch after the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that states could legalize sports gambling — has drawn gripes from consumers.

Maryland voters approved sports gambling in 2020 in a landslide, but it took more than two years to award the licenses letting patrons wager on their phones, one of the slowest launches in the country and the last in the region. The tax proceeds, estimated to be $30 million next year, will go to the state’s fund for education.

“The process took longer than it should have,” Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said at a news conference, laying blame on a complex bureaucracy created by state lawmakers. He noted that the new industry could bring in as much as $100 million per year by 2027 — money that could have gone elsewhere. “Sports betting is helping to keep all of these critical dollars in the state of Maryland,” he said.

State lawmakers wanted betting licenses to go to at least some minority-owned companies, giving disadvantaged businesses a foothold in what was a $4 billion industry nationwide last year. But that proved tricky to execute.

Regulators instead settled for requiring mobile betting operations to have investors without the exceptionally deep pockets that dominate the industry, mandating the firms have people who have a net worth of $1.8 million or less own at least 5 percent of the company. One license holder, Maryland Live! Casino, opted to have some longtime employees become part owners of their mobile betting operation.

Md. wanted equity in mobile sports betting. NFL season will begin without it.

With the exception of sports in Russian or Belarusian leagues, Maryland approved an expansive list of sporting events and midgame wagers. All major U.S. collegiate and professional sports are included, plus comparatively obscure events such as Croatian International badminton as well as video game leagues playing “Call of Duty.”

Bettors must be 21 or older to use the apps and don’t need to be Maryland residents. All winnings are subject to Maryland income taxes, state officials said.

The seven mobile betting companies taking wagers Wednesday passed soft-launch testing on Monday, as regulators made sure the software could handle going live and that all betting safeguard systems required by the state were in place.

Each of those companies — which can take bets online or through smartphone apps — are partnered with an existing, regulated bricks-and-mortar sportsbook where bets can be placed in person.

They’re primarily linked to the state’s casinos but also to the large Bingo World operation in the Baltimore suburb of Brooklyn Park and to the Riverboat on the Potomac in Charles County.

Maryland’s operators are:

  • Barstool Sportsbook, partnered with Hollywood Casino in Perryville.
  • BetMGM, partnered with MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill.
  • BetRivers, partnered with Bingo World in Brooklyn Park.
  • Caesars Sportsbook, partnered with Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore City.
  • DraftKings, partnered with Crown MD Online Gaming, which plans to open at the Maryland Fairgrounds.
  • FanDuel, partnered with Maryland Live! Casino and Hotel in Hanover.
  • PointsBet, partnered with Riverboat on the Potomac in Charles County.

Three other companies have been awarded licenses but are not yet ready to launch, said John Martin, director of Maryland Lottery and Gaming. By next football season, Martin said, the state should have 21 mobile licenses up and running. State law allows as many as 60.

“We’re not done. Our work continues,” Martin said. He encouraged bettors to have a strategy and set a budget. Anyone with a gambling problem can call 800-GAMBLER for help, he said.

Hogan, 66, promised to place some wagers on the Ravens game this weekend, though he joked he might need someone to help him download an app and figure it out. “I’ve never done it before,” he said.