- Associated Press - Thursday, November 18, 2021

ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland commission approved in-person sports betting licenses at five casinos on Thursday, with some commissioners expressing concern about moving forward without yet granting licenses to minority- or women-owned businesses.

The Sports Wagering Application Review Commission voted 5-2 for the licenses at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Hollywood Casino in Perryville and Ocean Downs Casino in Berlin.

It paves the way for wagers to be made at the facilities, potentially in time for this winter’s NFL playoffs.

Frank Turner, a former Maryland lawmaker who is a member of the commission, voted against approving the licenses for casinos ahead of any women or minority-owned businesses. Mr. Turner, who is Black, said he wanted to see them start at the same time everyone else in the business does in Maryland.

“We don’t ever seem to start at the same starting point that everybody else does, and then we get left behind, just like we did with the cannabis,” said Turner, referring to the state’s medical marijuana program. “We got left behind, and that’s what I’m trying to avoid this time.”

Randy Marriner, a commission member who voted to grant the licenses, said the casinos are capable of opening sooner, because they already have systems in place.

“Even if we waited a month, only the casinos are capable of opening sooner, because they already have security systems,” Mr. Marriner said. “They already have the structure in place today to function.”

Mr. Marriner also said further delay would cost the state revenue since some gamblers are going to neighboring states to wager.

“I think it’s time for us to get these five done, and as quickly as we can get the next two, three, four, however many, we’ll get that done as quickly as we possibly can,” Mr. Marriner said.

The casinos are among a group of 18 facilities that were given the first chance to apply for in-person licenses. Racetracks, off-track betting venues and bingo halls also were included. An additional 30 in-person licenses also are allowed under the law, along with 60 more licenses for mobile online betting.

The granting of the first sports betting licenses in Maryland comes about seven months after lawmakers approved legislation for implementation and about a year after voters approved it in a statewide vote.

Gov. Larry Hogan said in a tweet he was pleased the commission “has finally acted to approve these licenses.”

“Our administration will continue to work to get sports betting up and running in Maryland as quickly as possible,” the governor said.

The vote by the commission enables the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Commission to formally issue licenses for wagers to be made at the casinos after each facility completes procedural requirements, including a controlled demonstration of its sports wagering operation.

“We’re excited to move forward, and we’re coordinating closely with the casinos to make sure they finish everything as quickly as they can,” said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin. “Work has been ongoing, and we’re close. Our target is to launch within 30-45 days, which means Marylanders will be able to bet on the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.”

There is a 15% state tax on the revenue, which is projected to total about $100 million annually when sports betting is fully operational, with about $15 million for the state and $85 million for the businesses.

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