The chairman of a state panel charged with reviewing sports wagering license applications said it is working “diligently” on mobile betting but stopped short of saying how the first license would be issued.
Thomas Brandt, chairman of the Sports Wagering Application Commission, made the comments one day after Gov. Larry Hogan sharply criticized the panel. In a letter, Hogan blamed the panel for growing frustrations.
The governor said the commission has dragged its feet on mobile gaming. He demanded the panel have mobile betting available by early September.
“I understand that many are frustrated with the process related to the issuance of Maryland’s mobile sports wagering licenses,” Brandt said Thursday as he acknowledged Hogan’s letter. “This has been time consuming.”
Maryland entered the sports wagering field three years behind a number of states, including Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
And while several physical locations exist to place sports bets in the state, including at five of the six casinos, no mobile licenses exist yet. Other neighboring jurisdictions might soon lap Maryland.
“Marylanders have grown frustrated waiting for mobile sports wagering as they have watched it become available in state after state across the country, including our neighboring jurisdictions of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. I share their frustration, and I call upon you to immediately take the steps that I have outlined below,” Hogan wrote Tuesday in a letter to the commission.
The date in the governor’s letter coincides with the Sept. 8 start of the NFL regular season.
“To make that target date achievable, it is imperative that you immediately accelerate and intensify your efforts,” Hogan wrote.
The state law that created the tiers of licenses for sports wagering also requires Brandt’s commission to consider equity and diversity in licenses including mobile wagering, considered the most lucrative of them all.
“Maryland’s law is particularly complex because unlike any other jurisdiction, there’s a significant deliberate effort to enable small businesses, minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses to have equity positions and to participate in the growth of the new sports wagering industry,” Brandt said. “Accordingly, the law imposes several prerequisites on SWARC before it can adopt regulations governing applications for the mobile and additional class B sports wagering licenses provided in the law.”
Included in those requirements are two studies.
One is a review of the sports wagering industry in the state that will determine if remedial measures to ensure license ownership by minorities and women would meet legal requirements. Another evaluates race neutral programs and whether those would help meet the diversity goals of the new law.
The panel must then also draft regulations for the new licenses as well as applications.
“Each of these legal requirements has required time, consideration of study outcomes when available, and legal analysis and advice to the commission,” Brandt said. “SWARC is and has been working through these legal requirements.”
The studies, as well as a draft of the regulations, could be ready as soon as next week, according to lottery officials and the commission’s Chicago-based consultant from Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.
“They are not an easy read,” Jim Nielsen, deputy director of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Agency, said of the regulations. “They are a little confusing but that’s the way that they have to be submitted, so that’s what we’re doing.”
The regulations apply to interlocking requirements each applicant must meet with the commission and the lottery agency.
Nielsen said his agency hopes to expedite the regulations, which require approval by a legislative panel.
“I intend for SWARC to take action with respect to these drafts at a special meeting in the next few weeks,” Brandt said. “These steps are necessary for SWARC to set forth a sports wagering application and evaluation process that is legally sound and to the maximum extent possible by law, allow SWARC to achieve racial, ethnic and gender diversity when awarding the sports wagering licenses.”
Brandt’s commission could approve the draft regulations and applications as soon as its next meeting, on June 29.
Brandt declined to commit to a specific timeline for when mobile licenses would be issued.
“As other tasks are completed SWARC will be in a better position to provide a timeline as to license issuances,” he said.
Brandt said he would likely not respond to Hogan in writing.
“Because this is a public meeting, and everything else we do seems to get communicated, my assumption was that that served as sufficient,” he said. “Lots of other folks are listening to us today as well.”