Maryland House Easily Passes Sports Betting Referendum Bill

Marylanders will have a chance to vote for or against legal sports betting this November if a bill that easily passed the House of Delegates becomes law. The bill proposes to ask voters whether or not the state should allow sports betting if the Supreme Court rules that the federal sports betting prohibition is unconstitutional.

House Bill 1014 calling for a sports betting referendum passed on a vote of 124-14 last Thursday. The bill is short on specifics as its primary purpose is not to legalize sports betting, but rather to initiate a public referendum on the contingency that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is repealed or amended “in a manner that does not prohibit the State from allowing wagering on sporting events.”

This bill is worded such that it only takes effect if the Supreme Court rules in favor of New Jersey and strikes down PASPA. If that does happen, the bill will activate and a referendum will be held. If the Supreme Court rules against New Jersey or issues a decision that does not effectively end PASPA, HB 1014 will die and no referendum will be held.

If the bill does pass, the Supreme Court does strike down PASPA and voters approve the referendum, legislators will be required to draft a law authorizing and regulating sports betting in Maryland. The State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission will also be called upon to issue licenses to casinos and racetracks interested in offering sports betting. Revenues generated by sports wagering should be directed to “dedicated purposes including the funding of public education.”

Financial Considerations

The bill is sponsored by Delegate Frank Turner, who told the Baltimore Sun last week that he specifically wants money from sports betting to go to the public Education Trust Fund. One of the bill’s few opponents in the House, Delegate Mary Washington, called the proposal “a tax on the poor” and said she is generally against using gaming expansion to fund public education.

The Maryland Reported noted that a separate bill seeks to direct 80% of licensing fees (which could be set at $250,000 per license) being directed to the Education Trust Fund

A fiscal and policy note from the Department of Legislative Services notes that sports betting accounts for roughly 2% of total gaming revenues in Nevada as a starting point for estimating how much Maryland could earn from sports betting. The note also points to high and low estimates from consulting firm Global Market Advisors that put potential sports betting revenues in Maryland at anywhere from $13.7 million to $182.1 million.

A similar bill is up for consideration in the Maryland Senate. As the Baltimore Sun reports, the Senate could take up that similar bill sponsored by Sen. Nancy King or it could take up the Turner-sponsored bill that just passed the House. The Senate could also reject both bills, but that seems less likely considering the huge margin by which the bill just passed the House.

The Senate bill does not specifically mention racetracks either way, but Turner says it is necessary to make sure racetracks are included as well. His version of the bill specifically names racetracks as potential sports betting license holders because he believes “we’ve got to do something to attract people to the racetracks.”

According to the Maryland Reporter, local racetracks and casinos support the effort to legalize sports betting. Representatives from the horse racing industry anticipate an influx in revenue that could help the state’s struggling tracks.

Potential Sports Betting Locations

The Marylander Reporter also reports nine entities are expected to seek sports betting licenses if legislation is passed. These include six casinos and three racetracks:

Casinos

  • Hollywood Casino Perryville
  • Casino at Ocean Downs
  • Live! Casino & Hotel
  • Rocky Gap Casino Resort
  • Horseshoe Casino Baltimore
  • MGM Washington Harbor

Racetracks

  • Pimlico Race Course
  • Rosecroft Raceway
  • Laurel Park
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