Maryland has a curious relationship with gambling. Despite a cherished history of horse racing, the state outlawed betting at land-based casinos until 2008. It was then that lawmakers began to reconsider their position. Pressured by a voting public to be more progressive, they finally permitted slot machines for bricks and mortar operators, paving the way for Maryland’s first casinos.
Today, there are six land-based casinos operating in the state. While online casinos aren’t legal yet in Maryland, there is growing optimism among advocates that the state will legalize forms of remote-based gambling such as sports betting in the very near future.
Maryland’s traditionally restrictive rules on gambling
Even by the US’s conservative standards, Maryland’s gambling laws have remained particularly strict. Gambling laws are often introduced to restrict betting activity, only to be relaxed shortly after. But things are beginning to change. And pro-gamblers are buoyed by the fact six land-based operators are now open in the state, with the best Maryland casinos offering games such as slots, poker, roulette and baccarat. According to one writer, the state doesn’t seem to be able to make its mind up.
Ironically, the state has a long history of gambling despite its stance against it. The Old Line State once had six horse racing tracks in the 19th century. That tradition hasn’t changed much in 200 years given that The Preakness Stakes takes place at Baltimore’s Pimlico racecourse every year. It’s one of the biggest thoroughbred horse races of the calendar and makes up one-third of the Triple Crown.
Betting on horses – understandably – is one pursuit the state has always allowed. But other forms of gambling have remained illegal. Casinos weren’t allowed in any property until recently, and online operators remain outlawed. Maryland does, however, permit the running of bingo and a small number of raffles, while it also sells scratchcards and lotto tickets.
A more progressive approach
With the change in the law in 2008 to allow a certain number of land-based casinos in regions across the state, Maryland showed it was willing to relax its conservative approach.
Over the past decade we’ve seen further developments – such as becoming one of the first states to agree to legalize fantasy sports betting in 2012 – that suggest progressive motives. But unlike some other states with more liberal laws, Maryland has always had a key stumbling block in its way.
Namely, any change to the gambling law can only be made by an amendment to the state’s constitution. That would need to be agreed and ratified by the voting public. Thankfully, growing pressures from within the state and the attractiveness of a very lucrative online gaming market are prompting change.
Momentum has increased following the Supreme Court’s decision on sports betting to remove the nationwide ban, allowing states like Maryland to develop its own rules. Advocates are also encouraged by the state’s relaxed laws around fantasy sports betting, a market that has thrived in the last couple of years.
Why might online casinos become legal in Maryland?
The presence of legal online casinos in Maryland might have sounded like a pipe dream a decade ago. But now it is increasingly likely thanks to a new bill that Senator Craig Zucker believes will pass sports betting in the state.
Voters will get their chance to have a say via a referendum in November 2020 that would, according to the proposed bill, allow sports betting in land-based casinos. According to recent poll data, a greater number of Maryland residents are in favor of online sports betting than oppose it.
Senator Zucker says the internet is the way forward and has proposed that Marylanders will be able to remotely access sports betting apps if the bill passes. The law would make it legal for customers to wager on sporting events as long as they are physically in the state.
Is it a case of “when,” not “if”?
With Washington ruling that states make their own mind up regarding sports betting, the ball is on Maryland’s court. It has shown progressive signs in recent years that it is willing to relax its laws, and public opinion appears to be in favor of the legalization of online betting.
What’s obvious is that Maryland loves sport. There’s a thriving sporting culture – cultivated by major teams like the MLB’s Baltimore Orioles – while horse race betting has been a part of life in the Old Line State for 200 years. The growth of the online casino has also made it an attractive business proposition and public opinion is swaying in favor of it.
It is, therefore, more a case of “when” – not “if” – online casinos are legitimized in Maryland.