It’s safe to say things are afoot in the world of Maryland gambling. The Terrapin State is already considering legalizing sports betting, as well as legislation that would eliminate the requirement for a statewide referendum to expand gaming. And now, legal online gambling might be entering the mix.

Speaking in front of the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, Maryland Del. Ron Watson, who is a sponsor of the referendum repeal bill, HB 605, said he also plans to introduce legislation to study and legalize online gaming.

Sports betting on Hold While Referendum Repeal Considered

After some early momentum, Maryland’s sports betting bills, SB 4, SB 58, and HB 225, have all stalled in committee. One explanation is the presence of Watson’s referendum repeal measure, HB 605, and companion legislation that has already passed the Senate, SB 325.

The bill’s presence is believed to have stalled sports betting efforts in Maryland. If the referendum repeal passes, a sports betting referendum wouldn’t need to go before Maryland voters.

Of course, the legislature could bring both issues to voters in November. But legal sports betting in Maryland is far from a slam dunk according to the most recent batch of polling. A poll by Goucher College indicates that Marylanders are evenly split on the issue of sports betting, which may explain why the legislature is hesitant to bring it before the voters in November, and instead choose to put the referendum repeal on the ballot.

So why not bring both issues to the voters? It’s unlikely voters would oppose sports betting and sign-off on the referendum repeal for expanded gambling. In that scenario, the referendum repeal may go down with the sports betting ship, instead of passing as a standalone measure.

A Referendum to End the Need for Referendums

HB 605/SB 325 is an interesting bill, as it asks voters to end the current referendum requirement and grant the legislature the authority to expand certain forms of gaming. In essence, it’s a referendum to do away with the need for a referendum.  

Proposing an amendment to the Maryland Constitution to repeal a certain prohibition on the authority of the General Assembly to authorize additional forms or the expansion of commercial gaming; repealing the authority of the General Assembly to authorize, through the use of a certain referendum, additional forms or the expansion of commercial gaming; conforming certain provisions of the Maryland Constitution to changes made by a certain referendum; and submitting the amendment to the qualified voters of the State.

According to the fiscal notes on the bill, “A constitutional amendment approved by the voters would still be required for any future expansion of the number of VLTs or video lottery operation licenses.” Essentially, the referendum is asking the voters if they want to cede their authority to expand online gambling and sports betting to the legislature.

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