By Cody Kutzer
Maryland sports bettors who don’t want to visit one of the state’s five retail sportsbooks have been wondering what is holding back the launch of online sportsbooks. The first retail bets were placed in Maryland in December 2021 and sports fans are still waiting to be able to place wagers from their phones.
Other states have legalized sports betting after Maryland and appear poised to launch mobile wagering before its available in the Old Line State. Kansas sports betting sites are being pushed to launch in time for the start of the NFL season despite being signed into law just a few months ago.
So, why the hold up? Why is it taking so long for Maryland betting apps to launch? Although Maryland’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC) has taken the brunt of the blame, the delay technically isn’t their fault.
Maryland’s Medical Cannabis Role
SWARC chairman Thomas Brandt Jr. has repeatedly deferred to the language in Maryland’s sports wagering bill as the cause of the mobile sports betting delay. While it may seem like he’s taking a page out of the politician’s handbook and passing the blame, there’s legitimacy to Brandt’s claim.
To understand what Brandt is talking about, we first have to look back at the role Maryland’s medical cannabis legalization had. After Maryland voted to legalize medical marijuana, the state came under heat whenever none of the first 15 awarded licenses went to minority-owned companies. This led to lawsuits against Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission as well as changes to the selection process to ensure women and minority-owned businesses would be fairly represented in the blossoming industry.
Even with the scrutiny and legislative changes, there is still a lack of minority investors in Maryland’s cannabis industry. As of May 2020, white men and women accounted for 90% of all medical marijuana investors across the state.
Maryland Bettors’ Despair: The Disparity Study
Because of the issues that occurred with the medical cannabis applications, specific language was included in HB940. Specifically, the bill called for “…(maximizing) the ability of minorities, women, and minority and women-owned businesses to participate in the sports wagering industry, including through the ownership of licensed sports wagering entities under the bill”.
This led to an industry analysis to find out to what extent any disparity exists in the sports betting business. The disparity study also seeks to determine if any steps are necessary to intervene and provide help for any of the minority and women-owned businesses applying for applications.
Moving Forward Without the Disparity Study?
Up until recently, the SWARC had declined to move forward with the process until the disparity study had been completed and reviewed. During their July meeting, however, SWARC unanimously approved proposed online sports betting regulations and applications. This is notable because Brandt stated the committee drafted regulations “which exclude race and gender-based criteria” in order to avoid additional delays.
This isn’t to say racial and gender diversity won’t be included in the application process moving forward, as Brandt was sure to mention they’re still awaiting the study before awarding licenses. As a way of including a diverse applicant base without directly mentioning gender or racial specifications, SWARC implemented a net worth ceiling. Going forward, all new applicants must include at least 5% of its ownership by individuals with a maximum personal net worth of $1.8 million.
Although there is finally some positive movement coming from SWARC, there is still no timeline or expected date for Maryland’s mobile launch. I guess beggars can’t be choosers, right?