MD sports betting referendum bill includes racetracks, casinos

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Feb. 5, 2019

A Maryland lawmaker has introduced legislation that would authorize a referendum on sports betting at casinos and racetracks in the state.

Sen. Chris West, who represents Baltimore County, introduced the bill Feb. 4. The measure, which gets the ball rolling on a sports betting discussion in Annapolis, states that should the public approve the “expansion of commercial gaming,” the state’s share of revenue from sports betting would be used for dedicated purposes including public education.

The earliest a statewide referendum could be held is November 2020. The bill goes to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee for consideration, with a hearing scheduled for March 6.

Under the bill, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission could issues sports betting licenses to holders of video lottery operation licenses or licenses for Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing. That language would cover the state’s six casinos and at least five racetracks.

The state’s casinos are MGM National Harbor, Live! Casino, Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, Hollywood Casino Perryville, Ocean Downs Casino and Rocky Gap Casino and Resort. The racetracks are Laurel Park, Pimlico Race Course, Maryland State Fair at Timonium, Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs.

It’s unclear if the bill includes Fair Hill, which holds a Thoroughbred racing license and offers pari-mutuel wagering on steeplechase and some flat races. The Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area is in the midst of a major project that includes a reconfigured turf course and new grandstand facilities.

A sports betting bill passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 124-14 last year but wasn’t heard by a Senate committee. That bill listed “mile-track” Thoroughbred licensees and harness tracks as eligible for a sports betting license.

Like the 2018 bill, the new one doesn’t discuss tax rates or revenue splits, which would be established in subsequent legislation or perhaps through amendments to the current bill.

A companion bill was filed in the House of Delegates and sent to the House Ways and Means Committee. Another House bill is similar but states that only tracks offering “mile Thoroughbred racing” would qualify for a sports betting license, while a third would authorize the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency to administer sports betting and award licenses—without a constitutional amendment.

In recent comments to the media, Gov. Larry Hogan indicated “the odds are good” that Maryland will have sports betting, and that he expected to see legislative activity in that regard during the 2019 General Assembly session.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency reported record total casino gambling revenue of $1.67 billion in 2018, up 18.2% from the previous year. The figure includes $1.09 billion from video lottery terminals and $653.8 million from table games.

The racing industry receives a share of VLT revenue—6% at five casinos and 2.5% at Rocky Gap. The Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account earns 1% of VLT revenue from five casinos.

The Purse Dedication Account in 2018 collected $63.9 million, 80% of which goes to Thoroughbred racing and 20% to Standardbred racing. RFRA, which follows the same splits and requires a racetrack to match the funds it requests from the account, earned $10.4 million last year.

Racing and breeding industry stakeholders credit the gaming revenue plan approved by the state legislature and then voters in 2008 for solid growth in the business, particularly over the last five years or so.

Senate Bill 470 is available here.

(Photo by Tom LaMarra)