Maryland Online Casino Bill Set for Defeat

Maryland Online Casino Bill Set for Defeat
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Absence of bill on General Assembly’s legislative agenda Monday means Maryland's legislative hopes all but over.

A proposal that would have allowed Maryland voters to legalize real money online casinos is set to fail when lawmakers conclude their 2024 legislative session Monday. 

The bill, which would have opened the door for digital slots and table games, was not included in the state's budget earlier this month. It was not listed on the General Assembly’s legislative agenda Monday, the last day lawmakers will meet this calendar year. This effectively ended legalization hopes despite earlier momentum. 

Voters would have still had to approve the proposal on the 2024 ballot. With this year’s legislative hopes all but over, Maryland will not have a chance for legal iCasinos until 2027 at the earliest. 

Multiple groups oppose online casinos 

Opposition from brick-and-mortar casinos as well as problem gaming concerns largely defeated what appeared to be a promising iGaming proposal. 

Union groups representing Maryland brick-and-mortar casinos feared online gaming could deter in-person visits, leading to less revenue and subsequent job losses. Opponents in the legislature expressed further worries that the lost in-person casino visits would hurt nearby businesses. 

Some of the state’s six commercial casinos even expressed opposition, though they could have benefited from new online revenue streams. As in other states that have considered iGaming, some established land-based stakeholders have worried digital gaming would cannibalize revenues. 

Online casino supporters cited multiple studies – as well as existing iGaming markets – that showed digital gaming has little impact on brick-and-mortar revenues and can instead supplement them. 

Other policymakers opposed iGaming over fears it would spark gambling addiction problems. Proponents have said a regulated, tax-generating market could help fund problem gambling services. Marylanders are already gambling on unregulated sites, supporters have argued, that offer no protections and no potential state revenues. 

An iGaming legalization measure passed the full House of Delegates but received little traction in the Senate. The proposal would have allowed voters to approve iGaming on this upcoming November’s ballot and let lawmakers and regulators hash out ensuing oversight and implementation details. 

Instead, no such measure will appear before voters. Because Maryland’s constitution requires voter approval for any gambling expansion, it likely means such a ballot won’t appear again until 2026 at the earliest. 

Online casinos face uncertain future 

Policymakers and voters in Maryland and much of the rest of the country have supported regulated sports betting. Legal real money online casinos have not fared nearly as well. 

Thirty-eight states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico all have at least one legal retail or online sportsbook. Only seven states permit real-money iGaming, of which only four (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and West Virginia) have fully competitive markets. 

Online casino stakeholders had hoped Maryland could break through in 2024. A neighbor to two multi-operator iGaming states, Maryland voters overwhelmingly backed legal online sports betting on the 2020 ballot and brick-and-mortar casinos roughly a decade earlier. 

But the Old Line State ran into many of the same political problems that have thwarted iGaming in other states; fears from conservative groups over gambling expansion as well as liberal groups over potential lost jobs. 

In New York, another leading iGaming hopeful that has increasingly supported gambling in recent years, these two opposition groups helped end legislation hopes early in its legislative session. Other candidates in gambling-friendly midwestern states including Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa saw their 2024 hopes end essentially before they started thanks to the aforementioned opposition groups as well as a host of other internal political issues. 

Backers will hope lessons learned in 2024, plus a new slate of elected officials in most statehouses following this fall’s elections, can reignite legalization hopes. Combined with shifting national demographics that are increasingly warm to legal gambling, proponents believe it is only a matter of time before iGaming becomes more politically palatable.   

Still, the struggles in what was considered a friendly legislative environment in Maryland underscore the major structural difficulties that remain in statehouses nationwide. 2024 is already projected to end without any new iGaming legislation passed; there’s no sure bet 2025 will be any more successful.