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MD Lottery approves partners for casinos awaiting sports betting launch

The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission approved partners for five casinos that are still awaiting approval of their sports betting license applications.

The approval comes as the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission — commonly referred to as SWARC —  delayed approval of applications for five casinos for a second time Wednesday. The inaction pushed back the opening of the first legal sports books and angered Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“We’re obviously disappointed by the lack of progress in yesterday’s SWARC meeting, but we’re pleased that we’ve moved forward in other areas,” Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin said. “The delay is likely to push sports wagering back until after the New Year. At this point, we are hoping to make the NFL playoffs in January and the Super Bowl in February.”

Currently, five casinos await approval by the review commission after initial approval by the lottery commission: Hollywood Casino Perryville in Cecil County, Ocean Downs Casino in Worcester County, MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland in Anne Arundel County, and Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore City.

On Thursday, the lottery and gaming commission approved partners for each using an alternative process that takes into account gaming licenses held in another state. Those states must be one of 16 whose regulatory process closely matches Maryland.

The companies and the casinos with which they are partnered are:

  • Barstool Sports, partner of Hollywood Casino in Perryville.
  • Caesars Sportsbook, partner of Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore.
  • FanDuel Sportsbook, partner of Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover.
  • BetMGM, partner of MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill.
  • TwinSpires, partner of Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin.

“There are numerous steps that don’t involve the SWARC, and we are working closely with each facility to complete those tasks,” Martin said in a statement. “We’re also continuing investigations of additional facility applicants so we can forward more of them to the SWARC. We are forging ahead in spite of the delays.”

A day earlier, SWARC met for more than two hours — nearly all of it in a closed session with attorneys. The panel was expected to award licenses to the five applicants approved last month by state gaming regulators.

Instead, they voted only to request additional information from the applicants but gave few public details on what was being sought.

Hogan, the second-term Republican governor, called the delay “a very frustrating situation.”

The frustration is part of a three year battle to legalize sports betting in the state. Maryland lawmakers opted to not approve enabling legislation that would have allowed the activity in Maryland if the Supreme Court legalized it nationally.

The nation’s highest court ultimately did rule that federal laws barring sports betting were unconstitutional. Maryland watched as the District of Columbia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all rushed to open sports books.

Other states, including Arizona and Connecticut, approved sports wagering at the same time as Maryland but are already taking bets.

“The executive branch of government approved the existing sticks and bricks folks that have already been vetted and are doing gambling across the state many weeks ago,” Hogan said. “As far as we’re concerned, they should have been taking bets ahead of all those other states.”

Hogan blamed lawmakers for meddling in the process.

“The legislature did its job by passing sports betting,” said Sen. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery who also led the Senate effort on sports wagering. “Now the members of this independent commission, who were appointed by the governor and the legislature, must be able to do their job without politicians influencing the process.” 

Some, including Del. Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s and chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, have been adamant that Black- and women-owned businesses have a shot to own licenses and build generational wealth.

Jones, in a statement on Twitter, expressed confidence in the current process.

“SWARC was created as an independent commission to resist political pressure like this,” Jones said. “I’m confident the commissioners, who have been appointed by the Governor and General Assembly, will get this right.”

Frank Conway, a former Democratic delegate who now serves on the commission, said last month that the early awarding of licenses will benefit some and hurt those minority and women applicants.

“It appears as if the legislature and the staff of the legislature, even the attorney for the legislature is pressuring them to delay things as long as possible until they can do all the other brand new licenses where companies have yet to be formed, haven’t applied, haven’t been vetted,” Hogan said.  “The end result which is the opposite of what the law says. The law says they should do the others first and have two separate processes.” 

Hogan said the delays could result in lawsuits or worse.

“If in fact they don’t act immediately and approve those and the legislature has their way in violating their own law, it’s going to be at least a year or more before anyone gets to do (sports betting) in Maryland,” he said. “Potentially it could kill the entire deal.”