SEABROOK – Reggie Cliff considers himself a horse racing gambling professional. The 40-year-old said he has been going to horse tracks at an early age and since the MGM National Harbor opened in 2016, Cliff has made an almost daily pilgrimage to bet on races while playing poker.
“It’s in my blood,” Cliff said.
Recently, the Oxon Hill resident has reduced the number of races he places bets on due to financial troubles. However, if sports gambling were to be implemented by state officials, Cliff could see all of his gambling focus shift in regards to sports gambling.
“I’ve given my vote for that before, and I’ll do it again,” Cliff said. “It gives me more options on what to bet outside the usual slots and card games; I can even bet on my favorite teams to win it all as well.”
As Maryland lawmakers scrap voting for any bills regarding the measure, sports gambling has been garnering more public support from residents and other government officials.
Following a May 14, 2018, Supreme Court ruling that struck down a 1992 federal law that banned states from participating in the practice, eight states have now passed new sports gambling laws.
“During this time last year, there was only one state during March Madness where you could really place a sports bet,” Dave Forman, senior director of research for the American Gaming Association said. “What we saw after the Supreme Court’s overturn that allowed states to decide for themselves to legalize sports betting is unsurprising enthusiasm to do this.”
Maryland lawmakers attempted to pass a similar measure last year with a sports betting bill passed the state house with a 124-14 majority.
However, no action was made by the Senate, leaving the bill to die without a vote. Following the 2018 election season, both Gov. Larry Hogan and Senate President Mike Miller were vocal in their support of passing legislation this year.
“The odds are good that we’re going to have sports betting. Something’s going to happen in the next 83 days,” Hogan said during his proposed FY2020 budget press conference. “There’s lots of ideas, but I have no idea how it’s going to shake out.”
Two bills were in consideration, including a house bill that attempted to place sports gambling without a voter referendum as long as it stayed under the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, Director Gordon Medenica said.
However, Miller told multiple media outlets in mid-March that Attorney General Brian Frosh had ruled that any changes to gambling legislation must go to a referendum according to the state constitution. When asked to confirm Miller’s statements, the Attorney General’s Office said it could not comment on the advice given any lawmaker due to client-attorney privilege.
“We have an Attorney General who’s opined that because of this language we’re going to have to wait until next year to change the language in the constitution,” Miller said in a March 15 report by CBS Baltimore.
“I think that the sense was that was a bridge too far in legal analysis,” Medenica said, who confirmed the next time legislation could be seen again is during the 2020 election year. “Just like last year, multiple bills have been introduced, but none of them have been making progress, and I think we are going to have to wait until next year’s legislative session where sports betting can get passed the legislature.”
Public opinion has also slowly shifted towards supporting sports betting since the Supreme Court’s ruling according to a recent Gonzales poll. The survey, released in early January, shows that 49.2 percent of those questioned support making it legal. However, the poll also showed that 83.2 percent of those surveyed would prefer a voter referendum to decide its future.
One of the key justifications for states to pass legislation is to keep money within a regulated space said Dave Forman, senior director of research for American Gaming Association. Maryland Lottery and Gaming announced record casino revenue of $1.679 billion during the 2018 fiscal year from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018.
The state collected 40.3 percent of the revenue to help support its education trust fund, local aid, responsible gaming programs and assisting the reconstruction and improvements of horse racing tracks.
“They might as well because horse racing and other types of gambling is already mostly the same thing,” Newport News, Virginia resident Chetika Harris, 42, said. “People already do it at work, betting dollars with the brackets pools so what is the difference? They might as well just legalize it and make it easier for everyone.”
The lure of gaining extra revenue is a positive, but the industry is still new, and promises of quick positive revenues need to be tempered down.
“One of the misnomers about sports betting is how much revenue opportunity there is for the state,” Medenica said. “I think people are getting a little glassy-eyed with this numbers and in fact, sports betting is not a highly profitable activity. It churns a lot of dollars, and there are a lot of bets placed and paid, but in terms of what the state looks to make, that may be a more modest number that people need to realize.”
Decisions like what kind of bets will be allowed, from in-game to prop bets, and where Maryland residents will be able to place bets still need be addressed before lawmakers attempt to push a voter referendum bill for sports gambling during the 2020 legislative session, Medenica said.
Meanwhile, state officials will be studying is the implementation of sports gambling in neighboring Washington, D.C., who passed legislation in December 2018. The D.C. Council voted to allow sports betting in the city’s stadiums, arenas, restaurants and liquor stores. Also, mobile online betting will be allowed as long as it is within city limits.
Two of the city’s sports franchises, Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards, are already jumping into the betting world. Owner Ted Leonsis announced on March 27 that Capital One Arena will have sports betting run by an independent operator that fans can access from inside and outside the venue.
National gaming organizations have already stepped forward to embrace a future with sports gambling. MGM has been quick to obtain exclusive partnerships with four professional sports leagues including NHL, MLB, NBA and MLS. Medenica confirmed Maryland Lottery has not received contact from either MGM National Harbor or any of the state’s professional teams on the desire of having sports gambling in their venues.