ANNAPOLIS — Gaming industry advocates and Maryland casinos are urging the General Assembly to prepare for a U.S Supreme Court decision that could open the door to sports betting in Maryland and other states.
The ruling on a New Jersey case, expected next summer, could potentially mean hundreds of millions in additional gaming revenue to Maryland at the same time legislators will be hungry for additional money to cover expected recommendations for billions of more funds for school systems.
Joe Weinberg, a partner with The Cordish Cos., which owns Hanover-based Maryland Live Casino, said Maryland is in a Catch 22 situation where it may need to pass legislation authorizing sports betting before the courts issue a ruling.
“I would encourage the state in taking that tack in terms of being prepared to implement sports betting once the issues have been resolved. I think if we wait until there is 100 percent clarity from the federal level,” said Weinberg. “We will be two or three years behind our surrounding states and what’s happening nationally.”
Weinberg said the addition of sports betting in Maryland could mean as much as $100 million in additional revenue for the state from just Maryland Live.
Weinberg said that while the revenue to the casinos and state won’t be significant, it will have other “tremendous effects” including what he said would be the creation of “hundreds if not thousands of new jobs.” Also, the casinos expect additional revenue from traditional game play from customers, as many as 1.5 million new visitors to Maryland Live alone, who come to casinos to bet during the Super Bowl or NCAA basketball tournament.
“We at Maryland Live are all in for adding sports betting to the facility,” said Weinberg. “It’s really critical that we stay at the forefront of being able to offer a full suite of gaming within our facilities.”
A record $4.5 billion was wagered in 2016 in Nevada casinos where sports betting is legal. The wagering generated $220 million in revenue — roughly 2 percent of all of that state’s gaming revenue, according to the American Gaming Association.
The association estimates that current federal law has pushed between $50 billion and 400 billion in bets into an illegal market through offshore websites, bookies and friends.
The U.S Supreme Court is scheduled in December to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that prohibits New Jersey from legalizing sports betting. Maryland has joined other states in an amicus brief in the case.
The challenge centers on the 1992 federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act. The law does not directly ban sports betting but was meant to allow states to decide.
In 2012, sports leagues, including the NFL, NCAA, NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL, successfully challenged a New Jersey law that would have legalized sports betting in that state.
The high court could issue a ruling as early as April — just as the Maryland legislature is completing its work for the term.
The legislature has attempted to address the issue of sport gaming to no avail. Bills introduced in previous sessions have all died in committee. Additionally, any change to the gaming laws would require that it be put to voters because changes that legalized slot machines a decade ago were incorporated into the Maryland Constitution.
Some lawmakers, including a co-chair of Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight, seem optimistic about the prospects.
“I think Maryland should not be behind the curve on this as we were with table games,” said Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery and former co-chair of the committee. “I would support giving the voters a chance to have their say on it.”
Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery and c0-chair of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight, said she expects the issue to come up again next year.
“Timing is everything,” King said. “If the court comes out with a decision with an election year in 2018, I’m guessing something will come out of the committee.”
King said the legislature could pass sports gaming legislation contingent on a favorable Supreme Court decision that would place the issue before voters in the general election.
Additionally, such legislation could come as the General Assembly begins to consider the expenses associated with education funding recommendations expected to come from the Kirwan Commission. And while King said those recommendations may not be ready for the 2018 session, the referendum on sports gaming could build in much-needed funding.
A similar effort in 2002, known as the Thornton Plan, increased state spending by $1.3 billion. Legislators say Kirwan could be more expensive than the Thornton Plan.
King said the legislature will also take into account that other states, including some in the northeast that compete with Maryland, will be looking to legalize sports gaming if the courts clear the way.
“We don’t want to get left behind,” she said.