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Maryland online casino bill gets intro and pushback in senate committee

| By Jill R. Dorson
On Tuesday (26 March) a Maryland online casino bill debuted in a senate committee after passing the house but a litany of unresolved issues came with the introduction.
Maryland sports betting

The bill passed the house by a 92-43 majority on 14 March. However its senate introduction sparked debate about potential blockers such as fears of brick-and-mortar cannibalisation and an increase in gambling addiction.

HB 1319 would allow for statewide online casino in a state that has a mature retail casino market and which introduced digital sports betting in November 2022.

If online wagering is any indication, online casino has the potential to be wildly successful. Maryland is already ranked among the top states for sports betting handle despite being the 14th biggest state by population to launch wagering and set a record for its first five days.

However time is running short this session. The General Assembly is set to adjourn 8 April but, after the bill passed the house on 14 March and reached the senate two days later, it has since stagnated in the Budget and Taxation Committee.

The delay likely means that the committee doesn’t have enough votes to move Maryland online casino and that lawmakers continue to negotiate.

“We already have igaming going on in the state of Maryland,” sponsor Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary told the committee. “It is illegal. You have folks going on their phones or their computers and doing igaming with somebody in Curaçao or somewhere far away, not here in the state of Maryland. It is incumbent on us to capture that market and regulate it.”

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HB 1319 was one in a long list of bills introduced to the committee Tuesday and there was no verbal public testimony. Bill sponsors were allowed to describe their bills and committee members asked questions. The committee’s chair, Guy Guzzone, did not indicate when or if a vote would be scheduled.

Atterbeary outlined the bill, including sharing that there would be money set aside for responsible and problem gambling issues and that fears of cannibalisation are overstated.

Atterbeary quoted multiple studies, saying that 1% of the population has or is at risk for a gambling problem. That number is on point for those will develop a severe” gambling problem, according to the National Council for Problem Gambling, but the organisation projects another 2%-3% of Americans are at risk.

The bill sets aside 1% of tax dollars to fund problem and responsible gambling initiatives.

Maryland online casino likely last one standing

Atterbeary addressed concerns about cannibalisation and also pointed out that the bill includes $10m for a fund for existing casino workers.

Advocates for online casino argue there is a synergy between online and retail products and that lost business is minimal. Opponents say that this may be true for major companies that offer both options but, for retail-only operations, they say the cannibalisation rate may be higher.

Senator Joanne Benson referred to a new study from Morgan State University’s Data Analytics and Sports Gaming Research department that she called “devastating for people of colour” in terms of job loss.

Legalising online casino has proved a heavy lift in 2024 for myriad reasons. Lawmakers in Illinois and New York, among other states, have already abandoned the effort.

The effort in Maine stalled in late February after lawmakers in a work session were split on support versus opposition.

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