Maryland Online Casino Referendum Needs a Last-Minute Miracle, as Senate Budget Provides No Help

Maryland’s legislative session will end on Monday, April 8, meaning we’re now on the last play of the game when it comes to hopes for an online casino referendum this November. There’s clear momentum in the state, as the House passed a bill in March. However, the Senate has proven stubborn, and hopes of a last-minute change of heart have proven faint.

The state’s unionized casino workers oppose the effort, as do two of the retail casino operators. However, the most critical stumbling block appears to be that the Senate—for now—doesn’t see any particular need for the revenue that legal online casinos would bring.

Presenting her bill to the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee last week, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary stressed that local governments don’t have the funds to meet the Department of Education’s Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. However, it appears that Senators found her arguments unpersuasive.

Budget negotiations concluded on Wednesday without any mention of online casino revenue. Such an inclusion would have breathed new life into the effort at the last moment.

According to PlayUSA, another Catena Media outlet, Sen. Ron Watson admits that it’s now “unlikely” that any form of the bill will pass in the Senate this year. Sen. Watson was the originator of this year’s effort. However, his version of the bill stalled in the Senate while Del. Atterbeary had more luck with her follow-up attempt in the legislature’s other chamber.

Gambling Expansion is Tougher With More at Stake

There was broad consensus among analysts—including at PlayUSA and here at Bonus—that Maryland was the best chance for a US state to pass an online casino bill this year.

And it wasn’t far off. On paper, getting a bill through one chamber of the legislature means the effort was “halfway there.” In practice, it’s probably much closer than that. Even if there is no last-minute miracle this year, the chances for Maryland look good on the next effort.

Unfortunately, that effort will likely be two years in coming. The need for a referendum means there will be no sense of urgency in 2025, as lawmakers would need to wait until 2026 to put the question to voters regardless.

Maryland could be described as being in the “sweet spot” in terms of potential market size. It’s big enough to count as a significant prize for the industry if an expansion effort succeeds, yet not so big as to become a legislative quagmire.

That’s the problem we’ve seen in recent years. The industry’s most-coveted states, like California, New York, and Illinois, tend to see their efforts bogged down precisely because there’s so much at stake and so many competing interests. Whoever the opponents might be—tribes in California, unions in New York, VGT operators in Illinois—they fight much harder when there’s so much money on the table.

Maryland, with 6 million residents, isn’t quite in that category. Yet it’s bigger than the states that have found success since 2021—Connecticut and Rhode Island. That makes it all the more impressive that the effort has come as far as it has. The only other state that seemed like it might get anywhere this year was Maine, which falls clearly in that latter category of small market and low stakes.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is an online gambling industry analyst with nearly ten years of experience. He currently serves as Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus.com, part of the Catena Media Network. Other gambling news sites he has contributed to include PlayUSA and Online Poker Report, and his writing has been cited in The Atlantic.
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