Maryland Cutting Out the Red Tape

larry hogan maryland governor sports betting
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Joe Theismann speak to press about sports betting launch in Maryland with BetMGM. Shannon Finney/Getty Images/AFP

Maryland voters gave their resounding approval to sports betting over two years ago and Governor Larry Hogan signed the bill in May of 2021.

Yet, the highly-anticipated launch of online sports betting has stalled and it seems something is finally being done about it.

Hurry Up and Wait

Bringing online sports betting to market in Maryland resembles the car passing you at breakneck speed only to come to a screeching halt at the red light 20 feet away. Things were going swimmingly until a clause in the bill gummed up the works.

The verbiage in question was that the agency charged with overseeing the licensing process and creating regulations, the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), has essentially abided by the letter of the law.

The issue at hand was including minority- and women-owned businesses in the licensing procedure wherever and whenever possible.

Easier Said Than Done

And while giving these businesses preferential treatment appeases the special interest groups, it is never considered that online sports betting companies are limited in number.

There is a relatively small universe of companies with the experience and financial wherewithal to effectively launch sports betting platforms without so much as a hiccup because that’s their business. SWARC has found that scouring the landscape for minority and women-owned businesses in this line of work is no small task.

This has led to repeated delays and the very people who created and signed off on the law are blaming the committee tasked with only doing what was asked. It’s more than a bit hypocritical but it plays well in the press, especially to those who have been patiently waiting for the launch of online sports betting in the Old Line State.

Making Progress

Governor Larry Hogan has been vocal in his criticism of SWARC’s handling of the process and stated: “It has been nearly two years since Maryland voters resoundingly approved sports wagering in November 2020, and well over a year since I signed HB 940 into law in May 2021. Instead of decisive action to implement the voters’ decision, you have allowed the process to stagnate and become mired in overly bureaucratic procedures that have needlessly delayed the state’s ability to maximize the revenue potential of this emerging industry.”

Thomas Brandt, the embattled chairman of the much-maligned SWARC, stated, “Over the past year, we’ve heard extensive legal advice regarding constraints upon us in so managing a licensing process. To avoid further delays, we’ve asked the staff and professional team to draft regulations which exclude race- and gender-based license criteria.”

The operative word is “exclude”, and that should get the ball rolling. Of course, it’s one thing if a minority or woman-owned business has a proven track record of operating successfully in the world of online gaming, but to try to manufacture such an entity just for the sake of optics does everyone a disservice. It appears the politicians are only now finding this out which should expedite the launch.

However, it can’t come too soon for Governor Hogan who has repeatedly leveled pointed criticism at SWARC. But how quickly the Maryland bureaucrats can expedite online sports betting is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, it looks like a step in the right direction.