Maryland online-gambling bill receives twin Assembly hearings

Maryland National Harbor MGM
Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: March 04, 2024 08:58 PST

The future for legalized online gambling in Maryland looks a little bit brighter, even if the reality that authorization of online casino-style gaming, including online poker. Last week, two separate Maryland House and Senate committees held public hearings and opened lively debate on a pair of gambling-related bills recently introduced into the Maryland legislature for consideration.

First, the Maryland House's Ways and Means Committee visited the topic(paywalled link), as introduced by Del. Vanessa Atterbeary. Atterbeary's House Bill 1319 is one of two iGaming bills receiving some consideration in 2024. She is also the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which gave her the power to conduct the hearing and to possibly bring it to a vote, though no vote is scheduled at the present.

Two days later, the Maryland Senate's Senate Budget & Taxation Committee conducted a similar hearing connected to five separate gambling measures, including two online-gaming bills introduced by State Sen. Ron Watson. Just a couple of days earlier. After announcing his plans in January, Sen. Watson had introduced both Senate Bill 565 and Senate Bill 603 ten days ago. SB 565 calls for a public referendum to legalize casino-style iGaming in the state, while SB 603 is the legalization bill, similar in form to Atterbeary's House measure

Familiar arguments raised by both sides

Though both the House and Senate committees spent several hours on the iGaming topic, the arguments for and against online casinos offered nothing new when compared to the processes that have taken place in other sides. Proponents of expanded online gambling pointed to the added revenue the state could receive, including what would be earmarked for problem-gambling programs.

The other major advocating argument, long familiar in debates on the topic, is that legalizing online casino-style gambling helps deter Maryland's online gamblers from spending money on unregulated, offshore sites.

Atterbeary declared that her committee is obligated to explore all avenues for generating revenue that can achieve a benefit for the state, and that includes online gambling. “It only makes sense for this committee and the General Assembly to regulate iGaming and capture that revenue we need and earmark it for the Blueprint,” she said.

The anti-online forces followed well-worn paths as well. Those ranged from opposition to gambling in general, societal ills caused by any gambling expansion, and the purported cannibalization of live-casino revenue by online gambling, including the loss of jobs.

Such cannibalization theories have largely been debunked in the experiences of legalized iGaming states, which doesn't stop the argument from being raised in state after state considering legalization. The recent Maryland Senate hearing was attended by over 100 live-casino and cardroom employees who were bused to the hearing and wore “Don’t Take My Job” t-shirts for the occasion.

Maryland Live's opposition to iGaming likely dooms measures for now

One might expect that the state's casino-entertainment properties would be lined up in support of the iGaming measures, and MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, both of which have interests in Maryland sent representatives to the hearings in support of online-gambling expansion. They did oppose the high tax rates as proposed in the bills, which are significantly higher than the rates in neighboring states that have already legalized online casino action.

However, that unified front was shattered by Maryland Live! corporate parent Cordish Cos., which currently opposes expansion into online casino-style gambling. “Many of those pushing the state to do iGaming are looking to make money off of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s capitalism,” said Cordish's Mark Stewart, executive vice president and general counsel. “If iGaming passes, we’re a gaming company, we’ll do well financially. But despite our potential financial gain, we are asking you not to do iGaming, and that should speak volumes.”

Featured image source: MGM National Harbor