Sign of support for ballot Question 2, which would legalize sports gambling in Maryland. Photo credit: Ryan McFadden, Capital News Service.

Capital News Service – Marylanders have the opportunity during this election to legalize sports betting and gambling in the state.

Ballot Question 2 would allow the state legislature to permit sports wagering at licensed facilities, including casinos and racetracks.

The revenue from sports betting will likely go toward public education.

If Ballot Question 2 is approved, Maryland will join Washington, D.C., as well as its neighboring states of Virginia, New York, West Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware in legalizing sports gambling.

In 2018, the Supreme Court gave states the authority to permit sports wagering after overturning the federal Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which made betting on sports illegal in most states.

“Almost half the country (is) allowing sports betting and almost every neighboring jurisdiction around Maryland was allowing sports betting,” Sen. Craig Zucker, D-Montgomery, told Capital News Service. “The longer we wait to do something, the further behind we would get from other states.”

According to Zucker, the lead sponsor of the bill, if sports betting is approved, lawmakers, who are scheduled to reconvene in January, would vote on additional details, like who should get sports wagering licenses.

The House of Delegates amended the Senate legislation to mandate a study of whether the state should “assist minorities and women in the sports and event wagering industry.” This follows efforts to include more minority participation in the state’s recent medical marijuana industry.

“We had a pretty comprehensive bill (but) the global pandemic hit, so we thought it would be best to put it on the ballot because we ran out of time to work out any further details,” Zucker said.

If the question is approved, the General Assembly would need to work out the details of where and on what and how people can place sports bets in the state.

Zucker and other lawmakers envision casinos and racetracks would have the ability to do sports betting and likely allow Marylanders to place wagers on professional and college sporting events.

Approval would allow the General Assembly to enact a law empowering Maryland’s gaming commission “to issue licenses to offer betting in the State on sports and other competitive events,” according to an email from Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Harford and Baltimore counties. This legislation would specify “who is eligible to apply for a license …; what forms of betting are allowed; how betting must be conducted; and where an individual can place a bet.”

The Washington Football Team could obtain a sports betting license if the owner, Daniel Snyder, keeps the organization in Maryland, Zucker said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently expressed his support for ballot Question 2, and the impact sports betting would have on education.

“Question 2 provides a critical revenue source for public education without raising taxes on families and businesses,” Hogan said in a statement on Oct. 19. “We are already funding our K-12 schools at record levels, and this is another way to ensure that is the case for years to come.”

Zucker estimates that the legalization of sports betting would generate between $20 million and $40 million per year that would likely go into public schools.

“Given everything that’s going on with COVID, we’ve seen the funding source, the Education Trust Fund, that comes from the casinos, take a massive hit because the casinos were closed,” Zucker said. “This money has become more valuable to education.”

The pandemic closed casinos from March 16 to June 19, when they reopened at 50% capacity. Total gaming revenues came in $481 million shy of the previous year’s totals, according to Maryland’s lottery and gaming agency. This meant that the Education Trust Fund got about $146 million less this fiscal year than the previous one.

DraftKings and FanDuel, two major online betting companies, have reported donations of $4 million combined toward a group called “Vote Yes on Question 2,” which is trying to persuade Marylanders to vote on sports betting.

According to campaign finance records, the group has received money from gambling companies as well as the Washington Football Team.

“Other states have recognized the importance of competition,” Sarah Koch, the director of government affairs at DraftKings, said during a Senate hearing in January. “We believe Maryland can create a safe sports betting market that can stand up to the illegal markets and competition from other states.”

Casinos and racetracks could link up with online betting platforms like DraftKings for bettors to place wagers on their mobile devices, where personal information will be verified and tracked.

“Currently, you can have someone that lives in the downtown Silver Spring area or Takoma Park take out their cell phone, walk one block into D.C., and bet,” Zucker said. “Or they are doing it illegally in Maryland, and we are losing all that revenue.”

Zucker said he thinks if ballot Question 2 is approved, sports betting at casinos and racetracks could begin as early as June.