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Commission OKs rolling approval process for sports betting licenses

State gaming officials hope to expedite mobile sports betting in Maryland with a rolling approval process.

The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal that opens the door to a rolling approval of applications for retail and the coveted mobile licenses. the decision leaves open the door for mobile sports betting in Maryland before the end of the year.

“For this commission the tire’s about to hit the road as far as us actually acting on applications,” said Thomas Brandt, chairman of the commission.  

Up for grabs are 30 licenses for physical locations, as well as potentially 60 mobile licenses.

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These licenses are in addition to the 17 so-called anointed licensees specifically identified in state law. Those include the state’s six casinos, Pimlico and Laurel race courses, the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, the three professional sports stadiums, and several off-track betting parlors and bingo halls.

State law called for a competitive process to award the as-yet-unassigned retail and mobile licenses.

“If SWARC does not receive more applications than the licenses permitted, namely 30 facility and 60 mobile, it may be desirable and arguably beneficial for SWARC to award licenses to applicants on a rolling basis,” said Jim Nielsen, deputy director of the gaming and regulatory division of the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. 

Applicants will have to undergo a number of reviews and approvals from both state lottery and gaming officials in addition to the commission. That process would be streamlined for some applicants who already hold gaming licenses either in Maryland or in comparable states.

“We expect that a number of potential applicants already licensed by lottery and gaming and some other entities will be eligible for an alternative licensing process,” Nielsen said. “Lottery and gaming will not do full investigations on these people and entities at this time, and that’s just the way we handled the casinos about a year ago. A finding of qualification by lottery and gaming can be made pretty quickly.”

Applications for both types of license are due Oct. 21 by 5 p.m.

It is not immediately known how many, if any, applications have already been submitted through the state’s online portal. State gaming officials do not identify applicants nor the number who have applied before they have received approval, according to John Mooney, managing director of regulatory oversight for the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. 

The number of early-bird applicants is expected to be small.

“We obviously can receive them sooner, but I suspect we’ll get a significant chunk of them at 5 p.m. on the 21st, if history is anything to repeat itself, because that’s what we’ve seen in other jurisdictions,” said Kimberly Copp, an attorney at the Chicago-based Taft law firm and a consultant to the commission. 

Taft will provide reviews and analysis of applications including side-by-side comparisons of each applicant. 

Brandt, chairman of the application review commission, was promised that the review process would not “create a bottleneck” as gaming officials are “trying to enable some (mobile) sports wagering in Maryland.”

The commission approved Thursday a plan allowing the commission to grant licenses on a rolling basis if there are fewer applicants than available licenses.

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Anticipation is high for the start of mobile gaming. 

“We all know that the public is clamoring to get sports betting. We get comments about why hasn’t it launched yet every day,” Nielsen said. “SWARC can make mobile sports betting available somewhat sooner by awarding licenses on a rolling basis. Again, if we don’t get 60 applications, anyone that submits a timely and acceptable application may be awarded a license.”

And while sports betting has been available in casinos and other locations for about a year, mobile betting has been delayed as the commission works to draft a plan ensuring racial and gender equity in ownership.

In June, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called on the commission to have mobile betting in place by the start of the NFL season. That deadline was missed.

“Just a month ago, the narrative was this wasn’t going to  happen until the Super Bowl, and now we’re talking about November,” said Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman. “There’s finally some urgency here, and the governor will continue to keep everyone’s feet to the fire until this is done.”

Maryland is one of several states that launched sports betting in 2021. Many of these states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming, offer versions of mobile betting. Neighboring states, including West Virginia and Pennsylvania, also feature mobile sports betting.

States with mobile betting are seeing millions of dollars of tax revenue come in every month.