Farewell Bookies: How Maryland Could Legalize Sports Betting in the Near Future

Farewell Bookies: How Maryland Could Legalize Sports Betting in the Near Future

Connor Smith*

Sports gambling at Maryland casinos could be poised to undergo massive reforms during the 2018 Maryland legislative session.  Michael Dresser & Jeff Barker, Sports Betting at Maryland Casinos Could Return for 2018 Agenda in General Assembly, Balt. Sun (Oct. 10, 2017, 8:00 PM), http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/anne-arundel/bs-md-casino-gambling-sports-20171010-story.html.  Currently, most sports gambling is prohibited by federal law in all but four states.  Id.  A pending Supreme Court case, however, could repeal that prohibition and allow states more power to regulate sports gambling at casinos.  Id.

I. New Jersey Challenges PASPA

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was passed by Congress in 1992 and outlaws gambling on professional or amateur athletic competitions, with the exception of the four states which had already legalized such gambling: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana.  Nick Corasaniti & Joe Drape, New Jersey’s Appeal of Sports Betting Ban Heads to Supreme Court, N.Y. Times (June 27, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/nyregion/new-jerseys-appeal-of-sports-betting-ban-heads-to-supreme-court.html; Dresser & Barker, supra.

In 2011, voters in New Jersey “approved a nonbinding resolution to allow sports betting” in circumvention of PASPA.  Corasaniti & Drape, supra.  After Governor Chris Christie signed a 2014 law allowing sports betting in New Jersey, the State was met with lawsuits from the NCAA and the four major professional sport organizations.  Id.  In 2016, the Third Circuit en banc ruled 10-2 against New Jersey, invalidating the New Jersey law and upholding PASPA.  Joe Drape, Federal Court Blocks New Jersey Plan to Legalize Sports Betting, N.Y. Times (Aug. 9, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/10/sports/federal-court-blocks-new-jersey-plan-to-legalize-sports-betting.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2 Fjoe-drape&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module= stream_unit&version=search&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection.  While that appeared to signal victory for those opposed to expanding legal sports gambling, the United States Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari this past summer to hear an appeal of the case.  Corasaniti & Drape, supra.  New Jersey’s argument is that the federal legislation infringes upon an area of law that should be left to the states.  Dresser & Barker, supra.  A decision from the Supreme Court is not expected until Spring 2018, however, if the Court were to rule in favor of New Jersey and invalidate PASPA, then states would be free to pass their own laws allowing sports gambling.  Id.

II. The Maryland Legislature’s Anticipated Approach

In response to the Supreme Court granting certiorari on the matter, Maryland state legislators are preparing to discuss the legalization of sports gambling.  Id.  Sports gambling remains illegal at casinos in Maryland, with the notable exception of horse racing.  Jeff Barker, As Super Bowl Looms, Md. Casinos Seek Share of Sports Betting Market, Balt. Sun (Feb. 4, 2017, 4:37 PM), http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-sports-betting-20170203-story.html.  For Maryland to change its gambling laws, the General Assembly must agree to put the issue on the general election ballot as a constitutional amendment and allow the voters to decide whether or not to implement it.  Dresser & Barker, supra.  Because the Court’s decision will likely not be released until Spring 2018, possibly after the legislative session, the General Assembly will have to decide whether to take action in 2018 before knowing the Court’s decision.  Id.

The General Assembly should allow the voters to decide the issue in 2018 because of the potential benefits that legal sports gambling could bring the State.  Maryland casinos have been bringing in over $100 million in combined monthly revenue since the MGM Resort at National Harbor opened last December.  See Barker, supra.  If sports gambling were to be legalized, not only would that provide an extra source of revenue for the casinos, but it is expected that the number of casino visitors would increase, which would generate more revenue at slots and table games.  Dresser & Barker, supra.  At Maryland Live, another Maryland casino, it is predicted that sports gambling could bring an additional 1.5 million visits per year and increase annual revenue by $100 million, leading to an increase in tax revenue for the state.  Id.

If the General Assembly were to wait until the federal law on the issue becomes clearer, Maryland casinos risk losing ground to competitors in other states.  Id.  The law at issue before the Supreme Court would decide the fate of sports gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a major gambling hub on the east coast.  See Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n v. Governor of N.J., 832 F.3d 389 (3d Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. granted sub nom. Christie v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 85 U.S.L.W. 3594 (U.S. June 27, 2017) (No. 16-476); see also The Complete History of Gambling in Atlantic City, NJ Online Gambling, https://www.njonlinegambling.com/atlantic-city-history/ (last visited Mar. 29, 2018).  Should the Maryland General Assembly wait, only for PASPA to be struck down, casinos here in Maryland would fall significantly behind those in New Jersey, and potentially behind those in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  Dresser & Barker, supra.  Furthermore, a recent poll conducted by Seton Hall University found that sixty-three percent of Americans believe betting on sports should be legal.  Drape, supra.

The Maryland General Assembly has the potential to greatly increase tax revenue for the State, but is risking the possibility of losing ground to competing states should it table this issue.  During the upcoming 2018 legislative session, the state legislature should decide to put the issue on the election ballot and allow voters to decide the fate of sports gambling in Maryland.


*Connor Smith is a second-year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he currently serves as a staff editor for Law Review.  Connor is also a member of the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society.

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