States to Watch in 2024: Maryland — Is an Online Casino Referendum on the Horizon?

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Maryland might just be the best bet the US has for online casino expansion in 2024, but it will need a referendum to get there. A 2023 online casino bill went nowhere, but that’s because a ballot question would have needed to wait for the 2024 election regardless. It served to get the conversation started, and its sponsor, state Sen. Ron Watson has told Bonus he’ll reintroduce the measure in January.

Recent enthusiasm for efforts in Indiana and New York may have overshadowed Maryland somewhat and caused gaming expansion proponents to sleep on its potential. However, that may be a mistake.

Look for Maryland to get the job done in 2024. It has had the time to let its sports betting market establish itself and can put the question to voters in the November election.

A Slow Burn for Maryland iGaming Hopes

Maryland was among the most enthusiastic adopters of sports betting. Its House of Delegates passed a bill to authorize sports wagering by a margin of 124-14 in 2018, banking on the US Supreme Court striking down the federal prohibition on it even before the decision was in.

The Senate failed to act on the bill that year but passed its version unanimously in 2019. Voters were likewise very much in favor, with two-thirds voting Yes in the 2020 referendum.

Even in 2019, legislators were thinking ahead to the possibility of adding online casinos in Maryland. Alongside the sports betting bill was a proposal for a separate measure to repeal the constitutional gambling prohibition entirely. That would have allowed a subsequent online casino bill to pass without needing to wait for an election.

Sadly, that effort failed, but it suggests that the idea will have ample support now that the time has come.

In 2023, Sen. Watson and fellow Democrat Nancy King, the majority leader,  co-sponsored a bill to get the ball rolling. With no referendum possible this year, the effort was more of a conversation starter than a real push. It spurred the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission (MLGCC) to commission a study on the potential economic impact.

The study’s conclusions support the idea, suggesting that although retail casino revenue could drop by up to 10%, online revenue would be several times that amount. It also projected as much as $300 million in annual tax revenue by 2029, albeit at a higher tax rate than the 15% Watson and King proposed.

What to Expect from Maryland in 2024

Sen. Watson has already said he plans to reintroduce an online casino bill in January.

Between the overwhelming support that sports betting received in 2019 and the favorable findings of the study, the 2024 bill should have a good chance of passing. If it does, Maryland online casinos will become a ballot question during the 2024 General Election in November.

Unfortunately, that means that the regulatory process wouldn’t get underway until the very end of the year. Any potential launch would likely be in the second half of 2025 as a result.

But there are other potential hurdles to clear before getting to that point.

Public support and political interest don’t guarantee that an online gambling expansion bill will pass. When such legislation fails in a promising-looking state, it’s usually because of lobbying by other stakeholders. Existing gambling businesses will push back if they feel it will hurt their bottom line.

Support from Retail Casinos Is Key

Four of Maryland’s six retail casino operators will presumably be in favor of the bill. That’s because they’re already players in the space:

Of the other two, Churchill Downs has already established itself in opposition to the online casino effort in Iowa. As the owner of the Ocean Downs Casino, we can expect it to put up similar resistance in Maryland. This is despite Churchill Downs being a former operator in the space, first as BetAmerica and later TwinSpires.

Meanwhile, Century Casinos could go either way, as the new operator of the Rocky Gap Casino Resort. The former owner, Golden Entertainment, would have been more likely to resist. Century, though it lacks an online brand of its own, is already involved in iGaming as the land-based partner of BetRivers and Caesars in West Virginia.

Even if the owners get on board, retail workers’ unions have already come out against the push.

Key Figures for the 2024 Maryland Online Casino Push

Sen. Ron Watson: Watson has said that he will renew his online casino effort in 2024. Although he’ll look for additional support in the Senate, there’s no reason to expect him not to be the most vocal advocate in the coming legislative session. He told Bonus in September that he was waiting for the results of the study to resume the dialog in earnest. With its favorable findings, he should now be prepared for a bigger push than in 2023.

Sen. Nancy King: One important point in favor of expansion in Maryland is that King, the Senate Majority Leader, backed the 2023 bill. Assuming she is a co-sponsor again in 2024, getting it through the Senate will seem attainable.

Dels. Adrienne Jones, Sheree Sample-Hughes, and David Moon: Although the effort is likely to begin in the Senate, there is ample potential support in the House of Delegates as well. Jones, Sample-Hughes, and Moon are the Speaker, Speaker Pro Tempore, and Majority Leader, respectively. All three have consistently voted Yes to gambling legislation in the past.

Jason Chorpenning and Shane Sterry: Retail casino workers may turn out to be the most vocal opponents of iGaming next year. Chorpenning and Sterry are key figures in two unions representing those workers. They jointly penned an op-ed for Maryland Matters in December, pre-emptively decrying the effort. Chorpenning is the President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 27, while Sterry is the Assistant Vice-President of the Seafarers Entertainment and Allied Trades Union.

More States to Watch in 2024

Bonus News Managing Editor Alex Weldon created several forecasts for States to Watch in 2024.

Check out the other installments:

* New Hampshire Online Casino Hopes Likely Dead for 2024

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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