Maryland Lawmakers Seek to Strip Voter Power Regarding Gaming

Lawmakers in Maryland are moving forward with legislation that seeks to remove powers from the general public regarding the expansion of commercial gambling in the state.

Maryland lawmakers sports betting

Maryland lawmakers want to allow the Baltimore Orioles faithful to bet on their team this year. (Image: Patrick Semansky/AP)

Introduced by Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery), Senate Bill 325 proposes to amend the Maryland Constitution by repealing a prohibition that limits the power of the General Assembly to authorize new forms of commercial gaming. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 46-1 in favor of moving the legislation to the House of Delegates.

Though the bill seeks to strip the public’s authority regarding certain gaming expansion matters, voters would have the final say on SB325 should the House also pass the statute by at least a three-fifths majority. Amending the Maryland Constitution requires state citizens to approve of any change.

Fueled by Sports Betting

Several bills to legalize sports betting have been introduced in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly. Maryland lawmakers want to bet on sports gambling to generate new forms of tax revenue.

The Old Line State is surrounded by states that now have legal sportsbooks. Operations are live in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and soon, Washington, DC.

But unlike in those states, Maryland residents – not politicians – hold the power to legalize new forms of gambling.

The General Assembly may only authorize additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming if approval is granted through a referendum, authorized by an act of the General Assembly, in a general election by a majority of the qualified voters in the State,” the Maryland Constitution mandates.

Earlier, some lawmakers believed there might be a loophole by placing sports betting under the Maryland Lottery’s oversight. The lottery is permitted to include new games without voter consent.

That route, however, faced criticism. “We’ll have to do a referendum,” Delegate Eric Ebersole (D-Baltimore and Howard counties) conceded last fall.

Hands in Cookie Jar

With Maryland seemingly moving closer to putting sports betting up to the public, the discussion regarding where legal sportsbooks should be permitted to operate is heating up. Executives at The Cordish Companies, parent to the Live! Casino Hotel in Arundel Mills, say only the state’s six licensed land-based casinos should facilitate sports betting.

“Where the state can generate real revenue from thoughtful sports betting policy is by focusing all the sports betting traffic through the casinos, where it’s proven that there is significant spin-off play from sports bettors,” Cordish Principal Joe Weinberg said.

Horsemen, however, say their racetracks and off-track parimutuel facilities should be able to incorporate sportsbooks.

“What sports betting will do for us is that people will want to come to the racetrack,” said Robert Enten, a lawyer representing the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “It’s not going to dilute in any significant fashion the number of people who want to go to a casino. But it is going to help us, because those people are going to come to the racetrack and maybe they’ll bet on the sports and hopefully, on the horses as well.”

Adding further complexity is Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who wants to put a sportsbook lounge inside his NFL team’s stadium in Landover.

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