Marylanders could be placing sports wagers in time for the NFL playoffs.
The state has started accepting applications from some potential sports betting hosts, including casinos, professional sports teams and race tracks, and the director of the agency responsible for screening applicants says betting could start "late this fall or early this winter."
"We’re actively working to expedite the process," Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin said last week.
For now, only entities that were specifically named in the state's sports betting legislation, passed by Maryland lawmakers this spring, are eligible to submit applications through the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission's eLicensing platform, which launched Sept. 14.
In addition to Maryland's six casinos, two race tracks (Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and the Laurel Park Race Track) and three sports stadiums (the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium, the Orioles' Camden Yards and the Washington Football Team's FedEx Field), the named entities include five off-track betting facilities and two bingo halls.
Carole Gentry, a spokeswoman for Maryland Lottery and Gaming, said that three potential sports betting hosts had submitted their applications as of Tuesday.
Among the early applicants is the Live Casino & Hotel. Rob Norton, president of the Cordish Gaming Group, which developed and operates the Hanover casino, said last week that Live had already completed and submitted its application for a retail sportsbook.
"We had the application all ready to go," he said. "We're hopeful our application process will be relatively quick because we're licensed in other states as well."
The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission plans to hasten the application process by allowing interim licenses for applicants who already hold sports wagering licenses in other states with similar background investigation standards. Interim license holders will still be required to pass both a criminal and financial background check, and if any issues arise as part of the lottery and gaming commission's investigation, the interim license can be revoked, gaming officials said. They will also have to pass an initial suitability review by the newly formed Sports Wagering Application Review Commission.
Several of the state's casinos have spent the past year or more gearing up for sports betting's arrival. In Baltimore, Horseshoe Casino announced a sports betting partnership with the Ravens earlier this month. And in Hanover, Live Casino debuted its $15 million Sports & Social lounge in April in the heart of the casino. The venue has built-in retail sportsbooks that can be switched on as soon as Live gets the go-ahead, casino officials said.
Norton said Sports & Social has already been a draw for football fans, who are attracted to the bar's 100 feet of TV screens.
"It's been well received and we've had great crowds," he said. "I think when sports betting finally comes to fruition, that'll be the cherry on top."
Just when that will be is "a constant question being asked" by the casino's patrons, Norton added. "We try to do our best to keep them interested and explain the process. We'll be ready to go as soon as the state is ready... Our goal is to move as quickly as possible once we have the required approvals."
Approval for mobile betting will take longer. This first round of sports betting applications is only for retail sportsbooks. Casinos and other facilities that want to host mobile betting as well will have to go through a second application process for one of 60 available mobile sports wagering licenses allowed under the law.
In addition to the 17 entities now eligible to apply for licenses, the state legislation also opened the door to a competitive bidding process for 30 additional retail sportsbook licenses. Those prospective applicants will have to wait for the state to open the licensing system to them; Lottery and Gaming officials said there is not yet a timeline for when that may happen.
In the meantime, the state is still finalizing the regulations for the emerging sports betting industry. The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission will accept public comment on its proposed sports wagering regulations through Sept. 27, and a public hearing on the regulations is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the Montgomery Park Business Center in Baltimore.