Maryland Senator Creates Online Casino Bill Draft

A Maryland senator circulated an online casino bill draft to his colleagues. State Sen. Ron L. Watson hopes the measure will eventually be presented to voters in November. If state electors approve the measure, online casino gambling may be legal by July 1, 2025.

Voters need to decide on it because legalizing the form of gambling means the Maryland constitution must change.

At the moment, the proposed ballot question is:

Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize Internet gaming for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?

Meanwhile, if the Maryland online casino legalization question makes it to the November ballot, it may feel like 2020. Because Free Staters approved sports betting during the last general election that included presidential candidates. Then, online sportsbooks launched in November 2022.

The draft bill from Watson, D-Prince George’s County, also includes online poker.

Watson told Bonus on Dec. 29 that the preliminary draft is now “submitted to our bill drafters.”

Like all preliminary documents, there are still details that may change before Maryland lawmakers make any decisions.

So, the Maryland General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services will likely fix details like dates. The current draft says a voter-approved change to the constitution can go into effect on “July 1, 2023.”

From Online Casino Bill Draft to Law

For such a bill to become law in Maryland, both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly will need to approve it. Then, a majority of voters must decide in favor of it.

Unlike other measures, constitutional amendments don’t require Gov. Wes Moore‘s signature.

However, the state manual says the following about Moore:

If it shall appear to the Governor that a majority of the votes cast at said election on said amendment or amendments, severally, were cast in favor thereof, the Governor shall, by his proclamation, declare the said amendment or amendments having received said majority of votes, to have been adopted by the people of Maryland as part of the Constitution thereof, and thenceforth said amendment or amendments shall be part of the said Constitution.

Maryland Online Casino, Poker

Watson’s online casino bill draft calls for legalizing casino and poker gambling.

It allows for live dealers to serve gambling-age adults among the state’s 6 million residents. However — as Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania laws mandate — a live dealer studio serving Maryland will have to be located in the state.

From there, Watson’s bill draft gets more complicated. That’s mainly because Maryland’s laws are complex.

Maryland’s slots and table games are treated differently than other forms of gambling, even before adding an online element.

So, Watson’s online casino bill draft outlines that two online gambling operators can partner with each licensee, or “video lottery operator.”

In Maryland, a video lottery operator is likely a land-based casino. The American Gaming Association (AGA) tallies six commercial casinos and no tribal gaming facilities in the Old Line State.

That means 12 online casino and poker operators may eventually be able to serve Marylanders.

They’d be regulated by the State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, which also oversees the Maryland Lottery.

Each online gambling operator would pay a $1 million license fee for the first four years.

Renewing the license for another four years will cost the following, according to Watson’s online casino bill draft:

The license renewal fee is equal to 1% of the internet gaming licensee’s average annual proceeds … for the preceding 3-year period.

Also unique to Maryland, Watson’s online casino bill draft talks about how much money operators can keep rather than how much they’ll have to pay:

A licensee shall retain 54% of the proceeds from internet gaming received by the licensee.

So, online casino and poker operators will presumably see a 46% tax rate.

Regulators commissioned a study that showed retail casino revenue may drop 10% once iGaming comes online. However, gross revenue from online casino and poker gambling may reach $900 million a year.

Maryland’s 12 online sportsbook operators pay 15%. That resulted in $3.2 million in tax revenue for Maryland during November 2023, according to Katarina Vojvodic of PlayUSA. PlayUSA and Bonus are Catena Media publications.

Bill Includes Problem Gambling Funding

Although Bonus noticed the language in the nine-page online casino bill draft, Watson highlighted the portion about funding problem gambling efforts.

Exactly 1% of license fees, renewal fees, and online casino and poker revenue will be deposited into the problem gambling fund.

The rest will benefit a to-be-created Education Trust Fund.

At least two of the state’s higher education institutions will also work on problem gambling efforts.

On Dec. 29, Watson told Bonus:

Morgan State University and Bowie State University have a “Data Analytics” program and an “eSports” program, respectively. They have both received state funding to do research related to gaming in the state of Maryland. The bill will provide them access to the gaming data. The data provided will not only support their programs, but they will aid the state in accessing the data to provide valuable metrics regarding problem gaming and the efficacy of problem gaming related initiatives. Will also help to identify trends, demographics, etc., associated with gaming in general.

Esports betting, or betting on video game tournaments, is allowed in sportsbooks.

Meanwhile, Watson may be pretty familiar with Morgan State University‘s educational opportunities. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering there.

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is Lead Writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She specializes in breaking news, legislative coverage, and gambling marketing strategy overviews. To reach Heather with a news tip, email [email protected].
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