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Maryland panel eyes minority participation as it crafts rules for sports betting licenses

At issue is how the state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission will level the playing field for minority- and women-owned sports betting businesses. (AP File Photo)

A state panel charged with setting up a process for awarding sports betting licenses has begun work on regulations to ensure minorities and women will have an opportunity to own a piece of the action.

The effort to establish a framework for awarding licenses begins as state gaming regulators eye the awarding of some guaranteed licenses. Leveling the playing field as demanded by the legislature will require the Sports Wagering and Application Review Commission to create unique requirements not seen during the creation of the casino or medical cannabis industries.

State law passed this year requires remedial measures for race and gender owners for both the licensing and contracting activity, said Zenita Wickham Hurley, chief civil rights counsel at the Office of the Maryland Attorney General.

“So, this is the first time that the legislature has really directed the application of remedial measures to both the licensing and contracting activity of an emerging industry,” she said.

In setting up the state’s slot machine industry more than a decade ago, the state only required remedial activity for minority participation in contracting.

For the state’s medical cannabis industry, those remedial activities were focused on minority ownership of licenses.

At issue is how the state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission will level the playing field for minority- and women-owned sports betting businesses.

The panel met in closed session for well over an hour so commissioners could consult with lawyers about how to implement racial and gender requirements called for by the General Assembly.

The commission and the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Agency are working on parallel tracks in preparation to award some licenses while establishing rules for dozens of others.

Up for grabs are up to 30 licenses for smaller brick-and-mortar locations around the state. There are also 60 mobile licenses available.

The process for doling those out remains a work in progress. The sports betting commission first must establish rules leveling the playing field for minority- and women-owned businesses.

Any regulations are open to scrutiny by the courts. The state’s medical cannabis licensing process was subject to a series of lawsuits.

Meanwhile, state gaming regulators push forward and could award the first sports betting licenses by year’s end.

The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency last week launched an online application portal for 17 physical locations specifically granted licenses in state law.

A public comment period on proposed regulation for those licenses is scheduled to close on Monday.

At the head of the line are the state’s six casinos. Also guaranteed a license are the NFL teams in Baltimore and Prince George’s County as well as the state fairgrounds and one shared by Laurel and Pimlico Racetracks. The state’s two largest bingo halls and the largest off-track betting sites are also guaranteed a license.

Those applicants must pass a background check before receiving a license.

“So, what’s happening now is that our team of people are working with the named applicants who have begun the process to do the required investigations and background checks so that we may submit those applications back to (the commission) for awarding the licenses and continuing to build upon the positive momentum we’ve had to get sports wagering operational by late fall,” said John Martin, director of the Maryland Lottery and gaming Control Agency.