With the Maryland legislature’s crossover deadline now passed, the odds of progress for the online casino effort this year have gone from slim to almost zero. Technically speaking, SB 267 is still alive for the time being. However, missing the deadline means more procedural hurdles and, more importantly, a lack of political will to advance it.
For practical purposes, we can say that Maryland iGaming is dead for 2023. However, that may not matter much. From the start, 2024 would be the more important year for the possibility of online casinos in the Old Line State.
Maryland is one of many states with a constitutional prohibition on gambling. That means any law seeking to expand gambling in the state needs voter approval. Even if SB 267 had passed, Marylanders would be waiting until the 2024 presidential election to have their say.
SB 267 is titled The Internet Gaming Authorization and Implementation Act. It’s the work of two Democrat Senators: Ron Watson and Nancy King, who introduced it on Jan 25.
Democrats hold a substantial majority in both halves of the Maryland legislature. Even so, the bill has failed to advance from committee, let alone get a floor vote. Had it reached that stage, as a constitutional amendment, it would have required a two-thirds supermajority to pass.
What’s a Crossover Deadline?
Crossover deadlines are a concept present in a few states’ legislative systems. Failure to advance before the crossover deadline was also why Indiana’s 2023 online casino effort was deemed to have stalled.
Every state except Nebraska has a bicameral legislature, meaning two separate groups of politicians have to vote on it. In Maryland, bills that originate in the Senate and pass there advance to the House of Representatives, and vice versa.
Crossover Day, or the crossover deadline, is the date by which a bill has to pass in its original half of the legislature to guarantee consideration in the other. In Maryland, it comes three weeks before the end of the legislative session.
A bill like SB 267 could still pass in the Senate after the deadline. However, it would then go to the House Rules Committee, not the floor. That adds additional procedural steps and, with time in the session running down, guarantees that the bill would die unless the House turned out to be much more enthusiastic than the Senate.
Generally speaking, we can assume that’s not the case. If the House were eager to vote on such a bill, it would likely have introduced one of its own rather than waiting for the Senate to deliver it.
With the crossover deadline passed, it’s unlikely to make it as far as the floor of the Senate. When the session adjourns on April 10, the bill will likely still be sitting with the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, where it has been since January.
Maryland Will Be a State to Watch in 2024
Although the odds of Maryland passing an online casino bill in 2023 are now close to nil, that’s where they started the year. The failure of SB 267 isn’t so much a missed opportunity as it is the start of a conversation.
Next year’s general election is the earliest that a ballot measure is possible. The odds of lawmakers feeling any urgency to pass a bill in 2023 to allow the public to vote on it in 2024 were small to begin with. In all likelihood, Sens. Watson and King intended to lay the groundwork for a more serious effort in the next legislative session.
The constitutional aspect makes any gambling expansion difficult in Maryland. Getting simple majorities in both halves of the legislature is hard enough for most states, let alone two-thirds supermajorities followed by a majority of the general electorate.
However, that’s precisely what Maryland managed for sports betting in 2020. Not only that but the referendum passed by a 2-1 margin. There was also a simultaneous effort to repeal the constitutional ban entirely, which would have made the subsequent online casino effort much easier. Unfortunately, that question stalled in the legislature and didn’t make it onto the ballot.
Reasons to be Optimistic About Maryland’s Chances
Its constitution notwithstanding, Maryland is clearly a state with a positive attitude toward gambling. After launching retail sports wagering in 2020, it followed up with mobile betting last year and saw nearly a half-billion dollars in bets and over $80 million in revenue during the first full month.
Despite having a smaller population, that suggests that a Maryland online casino market wouldn’t be far behind New Jersey or Michigan. As a rule of thumb, iGaming revenue is often about twice that of online sports betting.
Maryland is also surrounded on almost all sides by other states that have embraced online gambling. In fact, of the six states that have legal online casinos, Maryland shares a border with four. That’s not just a meaningless bit of trivia: to date, every state that has made any progress on legalizing online casinos has been in close proximity to others that have already done so.
In short, 2023 was never going to be Maryland’s year. Coming into the year, those watching Maryland were thinking ahead to 2024, and the failure of SB 267 simply puts us back where we started.