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Adding sports wagering at Maryland casinos a bad bet for now

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland once said it would only have slots in racetracks.

But that was before the existing slots casinos were approved by voters four years ago. It was even longer before Question 7 was passed last month, allowing table games at the five existing casinos and adding a sixth location at National Harbor in Prince George's County.

So, with Delaware already offering legalized sports gambling, and New Jersey planning to follow suit to stay competitive in the gambling-saturated northeast corridor, could Maryland soon join its neighbors and permit sports wagers?

Policy-makers in the state aren't betting on it.

"It's not something that has come up in any conversations," said Delegate Barbara A. Frush, Prince George's Democrat. "Nothing has ever been mentioned. It hasn't been brought up."

Currently, Marylanders still need to go the traditional route to place a sports wager. That requires a trip to Nevada, Montana, Oregon or Delaware, as these are the only states to have legal sports gambling.

For the more technologically inclined gamblers, there are the quasi-legal online betting sites, although their legitimacy is cloudy at best.

If Maryland were going to explore the possibility of sports betting, it would be a surprise to Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"I haven't heard anything of it," he said. "I'm willing to guess that the current governor is so fed up with the gambling issue that I'm sure he will not support anything."

For Maryland to press sports betting, Mr. Norris said there would need to be more active supporters throughout the state.

"If there's no demand, there's not likely to be legislation," he said. "I don't see anything being put forward with regard to gambling."

He added: "Who can predict the future?"

Citing strict federal laws, among several factors, other analysts outside Maryland don't expect gambling to be the new frontier, either.

Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, doesn't see a reason for states to push for legalized sports bets.

"Historically, it has been a very small portion of the revenue stream," he said.

Mr. Eadington said sports betting would absolutely attract different gamblers, who then might be interested in playing other games while in the casino. Regardless, he points out that the addition of sports betting would increase revenue for casinos by only about 1 percent to 1.5 percent.

Further, there are many obstacles on the federal front. In 1992, the "Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act" was passed, banning sports wagering in 46 states, including Maryland.

Last year, voters in New Jersey approved sports betting in Atlantic City casinos. The legislation is being challenged in federal court, but state officials still plan to implement the Nevada-style wagers in January.

Along with the federal snags that hinder any potential sports betting expansion in Maryland, having major athletic organizations as an opponent further complicates the issue.

Earlier this year, the Washington Redskins organization came forward in support of Question 7 for Maryland. But according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, the league will not go any further in endorsing the gambling industry.

"We're very much opposed to the gambling on our games because of the threat to the integrity of our game and the risks that come with it," he said. "We don't think our players should be used as bait for gambling."

Currently, there is no pending legislation in Maryland to expand gambling to sports wagers.

"It's always possible that somebody could pursue it," Mr. Norris said. "I just can't foresee that happening."

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