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Sports betting panel postpones meeting, delaying casino license decision

Three casinos will continue to wait for a state panel to award sports betting licenses.

The Thursday meeting of the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission was abruptly postponed. An official reason was not immediately available, but one member said the delay is related to concerns about racial equity.

“I just want to have a fair process,” said Frank Turner, a former six-term state delegate and a member of the review commission. “That’s all I’m trying to do — have a fair process. I’m not trying to hold people up. I just want to let as many people participate as they can. Otherwise, there’s no need for having the commission. Just give everybody everything that they want and just keep on going.”

The postponement comes amid questions about awarding licenses to three casinos while licenses for minority owners are mired in delays, including an as-yet-to-be-started disparity study.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency referred questions to the review commission. A new date for the meeting has not yet been made public. The postponement signals a possible delay of the first legal sports bets in the state.

“It could mean that,” said Turner, adding that he believes there is no need to rush.

Maryland is already three years behind its neighbors in terms of sports betting. Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were all taking bets soon after a 2018 Supreme Court decision legalized the activity.

“We’ve got a $2.5 billion surplus,” said Turner. We’re not going to go broke. We didn’t go broke when everybody said we’ve got to bring in those casinos because we’re losing too much money. I think we’ll do this right and everyone will be happy, I hope.”

Some including Gov. Larry Hogan expected legal sports books to be in operation by the end of the year.

Three casinos —Horseshoe in Baltimore, Maryland Live in Hanover and MGM National Harbor — all passed initial reviews by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

Those three could have been awarded licenses by the application review commission, commonly referred to as SWARC, as early as Thursday.

On Friday, Hogan took to social media looking to gin up public support for awarding the licenses to the three casinos.

Some lawmakers, potential applicants, and members of the commission like Tuner expressed concerns that minorities were being left in the dust in a rush to approve the first licenses.

“That would be something I’d be really hesitant about doing, giving the licenses to casinos early because of the competitive advantage the large venues will have,” said Turner “But if that’s what (the commission) wants to do, that’s what they want to do.”

Turner stressed he is one member speaking only for himself. But Turner, a former state delegate with six terms under his belt including six years as vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, understands what it takes to pass a proposal.

“I do know how to count votes,” Turner said. “I’ve never lost a bill on the floor and I only lost one amendment and I’ve never gotten over it.”

Up for grabs are as many as 100 licenses. Of those are 60 mobile licenses considered to be the most lucrative of all.
The three casinos are included in a group of 18 operators guaranteed by law to receive one of 17 so-called brick and mortar licenses.

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

Licenses are reserved for stadiums used by the Orioles, Ravens and Washington NFL team.

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 General Assembly, however, in crafting the law intended to ensure minority- and women-owned businesses had a shot in the industry. Many of those potential operators are expected to bid for up to 30 additional licenses for physical locations.

The application process and awarding of those licenses is delayed while the state begins a second disparity study.

Turner and others have expressed concerns that awarding licenses now would hurt later awardees including minority owners.

Turner said until questions are answered about minority ownership, “we don’t have anything to talk about.”