Maryland Bill to Repeal Prohibition on Casino Lobbying Gets First Committee Hearing

Maryland State Delegate Jon Cardin has again tabled legislation to allow state casino operators to contribute to the political campaigns of state legislators and political parties. Cardin reiterated the bill’s importance during a Wednesday afternoon Ways and Means Committee Bill Hearing.

This is about consistency, transparency and elections, clear rules and meaningful policies.

Cardin introduced House Bill 0132 last week and says it aims to level an unequal playing field. State casino interests are the only gambling-related entities prohibited from making political campaign contributions in the Old Line State.

The current policy is inconsistent, he says, comparing the distinction between sports betting and casino gambling to that between Pepsi and Coke.

What this bill does, is it says that all entities that are able to provide campaign finance money to our committees should be equal and the same and there shouldn’t be any inconsistencies in that. Right now there is a law that says that casino licence holders are prohibited from making contributions, but sports wagering and the sportsbook licence holders are permitted to.

And in fact, it is just, it’s chocolate and vanilla, it is Pepsi and Coke. They’re both ice cream. They’re both sodas. They should both be treated the exact same way. And there’s no reason why we should have this one licencing entity that should be prohibited from making contributions.

Cardin’s attempt to level this field could impact Sen. Ron L. Watson’s draft Maryland online casino legislation, opening the door to new donors hoping to sway legislators one way or the other. Watson’s hope is to put the online casino question to voters in November.

Bill Cardin’s Latest Attempt to Level Unfair Laws

As Cardin noted, this is not the first time he has filed legislation to address the inconsistency.

Last year, he tabled the same legislation as House Bill 0054, but that attempt never reached a second reading. In 2022, Cardin took the opposite route, introducing a bill prohibiting sports betting interests from political contributions ahead of Maryland’s online sports betting legalization.

However, that bill also failed to reach its second reading in Maryland’s lower chamber.

So, while political contributions are a no-go for casino interests, sportsbook owners and operators can still legally donate to political campaigns.

During his last attempt, Cardin said that Maryland lawmaker’s priority is to ensure laws exhibit integrity, consistency, and transparency throughout the legislative process.

Lobbying and political contributions by gambling firms have become a source of controversy across the US, particularly in the wake of a controversial New York Times investigation.

In Maryland’s case, the state passed its law preventing casino owners and operators from financial donations to politicians and parties in 2012. At the time, lawmakers intended the legislation to limit the growing influence of an already powerful industry on a rapidly expanding gambling sector.

For a long time, the law made sense. But in 2021, Maryland legalized retail sports betting while allowing license holders to contribute to campaign coffers.

That inconsistency, Cardin has said, is unfair to Maryland’s excluded casino licensees. HB0132 would repeal the ban, making state-level political contributions fair game for all.

Cardin Willing ‘Take the Heat’ to Pass Legislation

As drafted, HB0132, or the Sports Wagering Campaign Contributions Parity Act of 2024, looks to repeal the political contribution ban on “video lottery” interests.

Importantly, “video lottery operator” in Maryland refers to the state’s six commercial or land-based casinos.

HB0132’s introductory text states the bill is:

For the purpose of repealing the prohibition on applicants for and holders of video lottery operation licenses and persons who own an interest in video lottery facility operations in the State from directly or indirectly making contributions to certain campaign finance entities; and generally relating to campaign finance contributions by persons with an interest in video lottery operations.

During the Wednesday bill hearing, committee chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-13) asked Cardin about the political atmosphere in 2012 when the legislature enacted the prohibition.

At the time, Cardin said, many considered the casino industry to have a “particular propensity” for impropriety despite “zero” consistent evidence outside a few “bad apples.”

Chair Atterbeary and Delegates Jason Buckle (D-18) and Eric Ebersole (D-44B) further enquired if other individuals or entities are prohibited from making political contributions in the state.

To the best of his knowledge, Cardin answered “no.”

He also urged his legislative colleagues to let him bear any pushback.

It’s a tough vote. Because there’s going to be an onslaught of press right at the start. As soon as it’s allowed through, it will be fine. So I’m asking you, let me just take the heat on that. I don’t care. I’ll survive. I’ve survived bad press before, I’ll survive it again. And, I hope that we can pass this bill.

Delegate Cardin did not immediately respond to Bonus’ request for comment.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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