It was a close call but it appears that voters in Maryland will have a say on whether or not sports betting will be legalized in their home state. The bill, S 4, passed in the Senate 45-0 on Wednesday after some changes made by the House the day prior. The close call wasn’t the vote itself but instead the timing of the vote. With just a few hours left in a shortened legislative session, the Senate voted to pass the bill. Now the bill will head to the Governor Larry Hogan’s desk.
The House stripped a lot from the original S 4 sports betting bill but the component to let voters have the final say is the important aspect. It came down to the last few hours of the legislative session but the Senate voted unanimously to approve the House’s changes. The House voted 129-3 on Tuesday to move forward with the referendum. The legislative session was shortened by a few weeks due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
The bill was originally sponsored by Senator Craig Zucker, among others. While a lot of what Zucker originally included in his bill is no longer a part of it, the biggest concern in the waning hours was to do what was needed to give Maryland a chance to legalize sports betting at some point this year. The majority of the finer details of Zucker’s original bill were stripped from the bill, including tax rates and who would be eligible for licensing.
If Maryland voters do pass the referendum in November, then the legislature will have to construct and pass a second bill on how exactly sports betting will operate in the state. So while sports betting could technically be legal in Maryland at the end of 2020, it will still be some time before Maryland residents will be legally betting in their home state. Essentially, Maryland voters are voting on just to legalize sports betting with no knowledge of what exactly sports betting will look like in their state.
We have seen from a number of other states how long it can take for the legislature to draft and agree upon rules and regulations in regards to legal sports betting. The House understood the importance of just getting sports betting legalized as soon as possible but the fact that they removed the majority of the language in Zucker’s bill could hint towards future issues.
This is a big step for Maryland as there is a chance to get legal sports betting on the books by the end of the calendar year. Assuming the referendum does pass, it is unknown how long it will take for sports betting to actually launch in Maryland. Betting on next year’s Super Bowl in February or even 2021 March Madness will be a longshot at best. Instead, a more realistic goal for Maryland would be to launch sports betting in time for the start of the 2021 NFL season or perhaps in time for the NBA or NHL playoffs next year in a utopian scenario.