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The long wait for online sports betting in Maryland is almost over

(Washington Post illustration/iStock)

Two years after Maryland voters decided to legalize sports betting and nearly a year after the first bets were placed in the state’s casinos, Maryland could start taking online sports bets by the end of November or early December — after first reviewing the applications it received from companies that want to offer the service — a state commission said Wednesday.

At a meeting of the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), Maryland gaming official John J. Mooney said the state had received 10 applications from mobile sports-betting operators ahead of the initial deadline, which is Friday. Kimberly M. Copp, the commission’s legal consultant, added that she expected a few more applications to come in before then. The state authorized SWARC to award up to 60 mobile licenses, and if that number is not met by Friday, SWARC can open another application window.

After the deadline, SWARC will present the license applications to the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency at its Oct. 27 meeting. Each application will be vetted by the state, and SWARC will reveal the companies that have been awarded licenses at its next meeting Nov. 21. Then, after one final review of each company’s internal controls, which should take about a week, the state will issue the licenses and mobile sports gambling will begin in Maryland.

The commission has said it will issue the licenses on a rolling basis as it completes the application reviews instead of issuing them all at the same time, and some of the industry’s largest operators already have started directing advertising toward Maryland residents.

Maryland has taken an arduous path toward full-fledged sports betting, which was approved via ballot question by the state’s voters in 2020. The General Assembly passed a law setting the framework for the industry in 2021, but the state took a methodical approach toward awarding licenses for mobile sports betting as it studied ways to attract smaller minority- and female-owned companies that often are less represented in the industry. So while brick-and-mortar sportsbooks opened at state casinos late last year, the state has yet to tap into the lucrative mobile sports gambling market, which is projected to inject millions of dollars into state coffers in 2023.

Still, that revenue won’t come close to the revenue generated by the state’s casinos, which generated $67.9 million for Maryland in September alone. Brick-and-mortar sports wagering at the state’s seven facilities in September totaled $31.4 million, contributing about $1 million to a state public education fund.

Most of the states that border Maryland, plus D.C., have long had mobile sports gambling, and the lengthy delay has irked those who believe the state has fallen well behind its neighbors. Plus, Maryland did not get mobile betting up and running before the start of football season, a lucrative time on the wagering calendar.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had pushed SWARC to “accelerate and intensify” its efforts to allow mobile wagering before the fall, writing in June that “instead of decisive action to implement the voters’ decision, you have allowed the process to stagnate and become mired in overly bureaucratic procedures that have needlessly delayed” the state’s entry to the market. But other officials said one of the nation’s slowest launches helped ensure an appropriate process.