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Sports betting won’t launch in Maryland in time for NFL season

Sports betting will not be a reality in Maryland when the NFL kicks off its regular season in about three weeks.

A state panel charged with approving licensees met for the first time Monday but took no action to award the state’s first licenses. Another meeting is not expected until the NFL is three weeks into its 2021-22 season.

The meeting of the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission also raised questions about how fast the state will allow mobile wagering.

“One of the ideas here that the legislature saw as other states were rolling out their sports wagering industries was that early access to the market seemed to be a leg up for anybody that could get up and running the quickest,” said Matthew Bennett, an analyst with the Department of Legislative Services who is assigned to the commission. “So the legislature, recognizing that, wants this commission to keep in mind that the early entrants to the market tend to be the successful ones. They want this commission to be mindful of that when making its determination on who gets, in particular, the mobile licenses.”

Topping that list would be many of the entities that are pre-designated for licenses for physical parlors that also have gaming experience or partnerships in place with sport book operators.

“The law does not give much discretion on who gets those licenses,” Bennett said.

Lawmakers earlier this year expressed hope that the first legal sports bets could be taken when the NFL began its season. Those hopes began to fade as members of the commission that will sift through applications were not appointed until late June.

Last month, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, speaking to lottery officials during a Board of Public Works meeting, raised concerns about delays, saying the agency was “under the gun to try to get it done by the end of the year. Some people are pushing for the fall, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

The five-member panel created by the General Assembly this year will award competitively bid licenses. It will also effectively establish exclusion zones meant to prevent licensees from cannibalizing the market.

Currently, the law prevents licensees in rural areas from being within 15 miles of one another. In more urban areas, those zones shrink to 1.5 miles.

Licenses will be issued and renewed through the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission.

Fourteen licenses are set aside. Six are for the casinos. Pimlico and Laurel race tracks would share one. Another is designated for the State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

The stadiums used by the Orioles, Ravens and the Washington NFL team also have licenses set aside.

Four off-track betting sites have also been designated for licenses: Greenmount Station in Carroll County; Jockey Bar and Grille in Washington County; Long Shots in Frederick County; and Riverboat on the Potomac.

Two others are set aside for Bingo World in Anne Arundel County and Rod and Reel in Calvert County. Both are the only two bingo halls in the state with at least 200 electronic bingo machines.

“The noncompetitive (licenses), there isn’t much discretion,” Bennett said. “The law states who gets those licenses, and lottery will make sure those people are qualified.”

The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission is responsible for ensuring the qualifications of the designated license holders. The wagering application panel voted Monday to not require information over and above what state gaming officials will use.

The applications review panel does have some discretion in awarding up to 90 other licenses, including 30 physical locations and potentially 60 mobile licenses.

Part of the commission’s work will require it to consider racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the industry.

The results of a study by the Office of the Attorney General are expected later this year. The panel will also have to examine current race-neutral efforts to determine if other measures are needed and meet stricter legal requirements.

“These are all going to be discussion points of future meetings,” Bennett said.