Earlier this year we were optimistic about the chances of bringing legalized sports gambling to the Free State. It appeared that lawmakers in Maryland were forming a united front with Governor Larry Hogan, Democratic State House Speaker Michael Busch and Democratic State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. all joining forces in hopes of legalizing sports betting via a new sports betting bill.
Unfortunately, consideration of this bill will have to wait until next year. Earlier this week, it was announced that the sports betting bill will not be heard this legislative year by the Maryland State House and Senate. Therefore, even if the bill is eventually legalized – it would only be put into effect in 2021. Meaning that citizens of Maryland won’t see legalized sports betting in their state for at least two years.
The legal issue causing the stall in Maryland, is the fact that in order to implement sports betting in the state – a state constitutional amendment is required. Specifically, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh had previously determined that sports betting could only become legalized in the state through a constitutional amendment. This means that the state’s voters are the only ones who can decide on sport gambling’s fate in the state, and no elections are scheduled this year that would have allowed a vote.
As such, when the sports betting bill came before the Senate Committee on Budget and Taxation last week, Ohio state Senator Chris West noted as the state will not be passing any more constitutional amendments this year – there is no way that they can legally consider the proposed sports betting bill during this legislative session. Therefore, due to this “technicality” the viability of sports betting in Maryland can only be examined during 2020.
The good news is that if it were to come down to a vote of Maryland citizens – most of them appear to be in favor of sports betting. As we previously reported, a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found a narrow majority of Marylanders support an expansion of gambling to include sports betting. As you may know, Maryland already has lotteries, racetracks, slot machines and casino gambling. According to the Washington Post, the aforementioned poll found that 53 percent of registered voters are in favor of legalizing sports gambling, with 37 percent opposed and 10 percent of voters having no opinion. The poll noted that 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.
While support for sports gambling in Maryland remains strong – lawmakers’ hands are currently tied – as they have to wait until next year’s legislative session in order to put the sports betting amendment back on the table. In the long run, we still expect sports gambling to become legalized in Maryland. Patience will clearly have to be a virtue in the Free State as citizens of Maryland will only be able to legally bet on sports in 2021 – at the earliest.