This time next year, Marylanders may be awaiting the launch of legal apps to play online casino and poker games. Because on Jan. 26, SB603 entered pending legislation in the Senate. The bill about expanding legal gambling must first be approved by both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly and then OKed by voters in November before it can become law.
Plus, members of the House and Senate must also vote in favor of an accompanying bill (SB565) that allows a referendum in November. Maryland law says electors are the deciders regarding amendments to the state constitution.
Meanwhile, the sponsor of both Maryland online casino bills, state Sen. Ron L. Watson, has told Bonus he proposed the measures because of the revenue iGaming could generate.
Watson, D-Prince George’s County, has said Maryland needs money to close the budget gap. He cited predictions that in Fiscal Year 2025, Maryland will face a $761 million budget deficit.
Also, if online casino and poker gambling become law, a study commissioned by the state’s regulator estimates it will generate $900 million in revenue annually. That may be a conservative calculation because the research considered tax rates up to 30%.
SB603, Internet Gaming — Authorization and Implementation, calls for a 46% tax rate on Maryland online casino operators. That’s based on the bill draft Watson shared with Bonus. Because as of 1 p.m. on Jan. 26, the Maryland legislation listing hadn’t yet hyperlinked to the current bill text. Bonus will update this article if the new bill text differs from the draft.
SB603’s hyperlink to the 13-page-long bill was working as of 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 26.
The most significant difference between the draft and the current bill is Watson is proposing a 47% tax rate for iGaming operators. The draft showed a 46% tax rate.
Retail Casino Consequences of SB603
Watson acknowledges that the regulator-commissioned study shows Maryland’s six land-based casinos may see a 10% drop in revenue if iGaming is legalized.
The possible loss of commercial casino revenue and jobs are the primary objections already voiced about this iteration of expanding legal gambling.
Watson’s responses have addressed revenue and jobs.
First, he said if Maryland does nothing, its six casinos will lose money to Virginia’s new gaming facilities. Because right now, Virginians are traveling to Maryland to gamble.
Second, SB603 would have two online casino operators partnering with each casino, yielding 12 sites. That means those sites will be bringing in revenue for the land-based casinos, Watson has said.
Also, the Maryland online casino and poker bill outlines requirements for live dealer studios serving operators to be built within the state’s borders. That means those studios must hire croupiers. Those are new jobs for Marylanders, Watson has said.
At the moment, Watson’s bill is the most active 2024 legislation that may introduce a new state to legal iGaming. Maine and New York also have pending bills. However, they haven’t seen movement since Jan. 10 and 11, respectively. Although Maine’s LD1777 does have a Jan. 29 “work session” scheduled.
Meanwhile, both Maryland online casino bills have been read once and now reside in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. That body’s next bill hearing is scheduled for Jan. 31.
Expanding Legal Gambling
Maryland’s current legal gambling landscape includes commercial casinos but no tribal gaming facilities. Its legal online gambling consists of sportsbooks, which launched in November 2022.
The state’s regulator — Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency (MLGCA) — offers retail lottery tickets but no iLottery.
So, expanding legal gambling may only start with Watson’s iGaming bills.
If Maryland were to look beyond adding legal online casino and poker games, it could add iLottery, esports betting, and multi-state online poker. The latter likely wouldn’t involve a ballot measure if online poker is legalized.
As for esports betting, other states include the ability to bet on video gaming tournaments in their sports betting laws. Maryland removed that option before legalizing sports betting and hasn’t added it back, PlayMaryland reported on Dec. 5, 2023. Bonus and PlayMaryland are Catena Media publications.
Federal laws and state gaming compacts govern tribal gaming.
However, it may be best to concentrate on this possible referendum for now.