The Baltimore Sun delivered an uppercut to efforts to legalize Maryland sports betting with a recent op-ed.
Maryland could soon join some of its neighbors, including Virginia and Washington, DC, with legal and regulated sportsbooks if a referendum passes on Election Day on Nov. 3.
In fact, Maryland has been making steady strides in the gambling space. The state legalized casinos with slot machines in 2010, and it then permitted table games beginning in 2012.
However, the influential Baltimore newspaper doesn’t think the gambling initiatives should expand to include sports betting.
Not this year, anyway.
The state of Maryland sports betting
On Election Day, Maryland voters will decide on Question 2, a commercial gaming expansion referendum.
Earlier this year, the Maryland Senate and House ultimately passed a sports betting bill. However, they stripped it of much of its original language. That was due largely to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the General Assembly to convene three weeks early.
However, they opted to push forward with the legislative referendum. However, it would simply allow voters to approve sports betting. As a result, most of the sports betting details wouldn’t be worked out until the General Assembly reconvenes in 2021.
So, in its final form, Question 2 simply asks:
”Do you approve the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and events betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”
Why the Sun opposes MD sports betting
That lack of details is one reason the Baltimore Sun doesn’t support the current efforts.
As the editorial board wrote:
”While it’s not unusual to pass a referendum first and fill in the particulars later, there’s no good reason to do that here. The potential revenue for the state — estimated to be around $18 million if taxed at 20% — is not nothing. But it’s not enough to make a significant dent in education or other Maryland costs and certainly not enough to justify proceeding without a clear plan or a requirement that the money go toward education, if that’s the way lawmakers want to play it.”
Additionally, the Sun’s editorial board took issue with wording in Question 2. Specifically, the writers are skeptical of the promise that sports betting’s “primary purpose” would be “raising revenue for education.”
As the newspaper notes, the state is already “on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars” in related funding that it approved in 2019. Additionally, educational costs in the Old Line State are likely to skyrocket due to various pandemic-related measures.
Also, when Maryland legalized casinos in 2010, it earmarked tax revenue for education. But as the newspaper wrote, “the casino funds simply replaced current education funds, which were then redirected to other areas, rather than adding to the education totals.” That loophole of sorts wasn’t closed until eight years later.
MD sports betting’s impact on Virginia
The first draft of Maryland sports betting legislation included many details. They focused on licensing, tax rates, permissible wagers and other key considerations.
However, lawmakers have stripped out those details. Now, it’s hard to know how legal Maryland sports betting would affect Virginia. In fact, the Baltimore Sun cited that uncertainty for its opposition to the ballot measure.
However, there is good news for Virginia stakeholders. It’s going to be difficult for Maryland and other nearby states to lure away VA bettors. But it will have some impact on how much money will be bet in Virginia.
Aside from a nonsensical ban on betting on in-state universities, Virginia’s sports betting regulations should create a competitive marketplace, a fair tax rate for operators, and the convenience of online wagering with plenty of brick-and-mortar options.
Once Virginia’s first sportsbooks are online in early 2021, VA sports bettors will likely have little reason to go anywhere else, including neighboring states.