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Best Week, Worst Week: Exporters get boost from state; Fantasy sports web sites get more scrutiny

Exporters got a big boost this week from the Maryland Department of Commerce while fantasy sports players began circling the wagons as the state attorney general started a review into the legality of fantasy sports websites.

On Tuesday, business writer Anamika Roy reported that the Maryland Department of Commerce launched the Maryland Partners in International Trade (MAPIT) program, involving representatives from local, state and federal government and academia, to raise awareness about the state’s export programs.

Gov. Larry Hogan said the program was developed to build on the state’s $12.2 billion in exports generated last year and help create more jobs and opportunities for Maryland businesses.

The Department of Commerce will provide training on current programs, work with county economic development agencies and host a networking event to introduce counties to potential exporters. Maryland companies will also get to work with MBA students at the University of Maryland, College Park’s Smith School of Business, through the school’s Center for International Business Education and Research. The program also seeks to increase Maryland’s participation in overseas trade shows.

Roy reported that the program comes after a report in October by the Global Cities Initiative, a partnership between the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase, showed that Baltimore ranks 90th out of 100 among metro areas in percent of GDP in exports. Just under 7 percent of the city’s economy comes from exports, even though Baltimore and the surrounding metro area ranks 28th out of 100 of the country’s largest metro regions based on export value. Increasing exports will let small and mid-sized businesses play a bigger role in the local economy, the report said. The report also found a lack of awareness among small and mid-size business owners about their export potential, noting that they were reluctant to export due to challenges with regulations, finances and logistics. More than 75 percent of the 18,000 businesses surveyed said they did not know about export assistance programs run by the government or private sector.

And while Hogan tries to help boost Maryland commerce, the state’s attorney general has begun looking into the legality of another kind of commerce — Internet sports fantasy sites — and the two main players are mobilizing for a fight.

On Monday, government affairs writer Bryan P. Sears reported that an informal review, requested by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., led to the cancellation of a Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight hearing that was to include discussion of a possible regulatory framework for the one-day sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings.

Short-term or one-day fantasy sports sites have some under increasing scrutiny and criticism in recent months from elected officials in Maryland and other states. Some states, such as New York and Nevada, have barred the activity, saying it amounted to illegal gaming activity.

Maryland has yet to answer to answer the basic question of whether the sites can operate in the state at all.  Miller’s request for advice from Attorney General Brian E. Frosh could provide an answer to legislators.

The advisory letter from Frosh, which is less formal than an opinion, could be delivered to legislators as early as next week. The committee then could reschedule a hearing before the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

After hearing the news of the informal investigation, Sears reported on Thursday that FanDuel and DraftKings joined forces in Maryland to mobilize players in response to the state’s actions.

About 100,0000 Maryland players of the two sites were emailed by FanDuel and DraftKings and encouraged to contact Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot and ask him not to ban the industry.

A 2012 law passed in Maryland legalized fantasy sports in the state and gave the comptroller’s office the authority to regulate it. The lead sponsor of the bill and Franchot both said that, at the time, the bill did not contemplate organized corporate games but was aimed at making a beer-and-Fritos social practice legal.