The odds are pretty good that Maryland will try to cash in on sports betting in the new year.
Gov. Larry Hogan, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) are hoping to forge an agreement during the 2019 legislative session on a measure to expand legalized gambling in Maryland to include wagering on professional sports teams and contests.
The D.C. Council voted on Tuesday to legalize sports betting, becoming the first jurisdiction in the region to do so.
Hogan (R) said Thursday that there are competing legislative proposals for sports betting, but “between the House, the Senate and the administration this session, it is probably going to get negotiated out.”
The governor’s comments were made during a wide-ranging interview about the coming 90-day legislative session; his national profile since his decisive reelection in November; and the future of the Republican Party after President Trump.
Hogan, who in the past several months has released legislative proposals on redistricting, school construction, student debt relief and education, said he also will unveil plans for school accountability, crime reduction in Baltimore, job creation, tax cuts and transportation infrastructure.
He refused to offer any details on what those proposals might entail. All would be submitted to the Democratic-majority legislature to be considered during the session, which begins Jan. 9.
“We’ll wait to see over the next couple of weeks what we’ll do on tax cuts,” the governor said. “We haven’t announced anything yet.”
Hogan, who defeated Democrat Ben Jealous by 14 points in an election where other Republican candidates in Maryland and across the country experienced bruising defeats, has been described as a rising GOP star since his reelection — and as a more centrist, less partisan alternative to Trump.
Earlier this month, a GOP group that thinks the party is headed in the wrong direction invited Hogan to speak at its conference.
“Compromise and moderation should not be considered dirty words,” Hogan told the assembled political thinkers. “I believe it’s only when the partisan shouting stops that we can truly hear each other’s voices and concerns.”
But in the ornate reception room at the State House in Annapolis on Thursday, Hogan said he was focused on Maryland.
“I’m flattered,” he said of the national attention, but “look, I was just reelected governor — I’ve got a lot of work to do here. It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to.”
He said he remains “very concerned about where we are, where the Republican Party is, where the country is” and will continue to speak out when he strongly opposes the president’s policies.
“But I haven’t been out there protesting every day,” he said. “And I never told anyone I was interested in running for any national office.”
Hogan, who says he rarely stepped out of Maryland during his first term, now plans to be “a bigger part of the national discussion” and have higher visibility as the incoming chair of the National Governors Association.
He called the wrangling in Washington over health care “one of his greatest frustrations,” and said a recent Texas court ruling striking down the Affordable Care Act is “putting a question mark” on efforts in Maryland to provide people with health insurance they can afford. States should not have to come up with “piecemeal” solutions to what is a national issue, the governor said.
Some Democrats in Maryland have pushed for a health insurance down payment program to replace the federal individual mandate. But Hogan said he is not in favor of the effort, which he considers to be a mandate that “penalizes people to do something against their will.”
On fighting crime in Baltimore, Hogan said his administration has been meeting with city and federal officials “to try to figure out solutions.”
“We’ve tried lots of different things,” he said. “Some people are saying, ‘Can you come in here and take over the city police force?’ We don’t want to do that. But shy of that, are there other things we can do to prop up the city and back them up? We’re ready to do it. We want to talk to the mayor. We want to talk to the legislature.”
While Hogan and the General Assembly are expected to lock horns the next several months over issues such as raising the minimum wage, education funding and the governor’s plan to use much of the state’s casino revenue on building new schools, leaders appear aligned on sports betting.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban that kept states, with the exception of Nevada, from allowing sports betting. In addition to the District, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Mexico have since legalized sports betting. New York and Arkansas also have moved toward allowing it.
The General Assembly considered a bill during the 2018 session that called for a voter referendum on sports betting if the Supreme Court gave states the option to make sports wagering legal. The measure passed the House of Delegates but it stalled in the Senate.
If a similar measure passed in 2019, the earliest that voters could consider the question would be 2020, which would mean Maryland would not have sports betting in place until 2021.
Lawmakers could also consider legislation that would allow the state lottery to regulate the new form of gambling, a move that would bypass taking the issue to the ballot.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found a narrow majority of Marylanders support an expansion of gambling to include sports betting. Maryland already has lotteries, racetracks, slot machines and casino gambling.
The poll, which was conducted in October, found that 53 percent of registered voters are in favor of legal professional sports gambling, with 37 percent opposed and 10 percent of voters having no opinion.
Those with strong opinions on the issue were about evenly divided, with 26 percent strongly disapproving of legal sports betting and 24 percent strongly approving.