Published: January 30, 2024

Sen. Ron Watson’s Maryland online casino bill, SB 603, was filed

The Maryland online casino bill industry proponents are most bullish about in 2024 is ready to roll.

Sen. Ron Watson’s Maryland online casino bill, SB 603, was filed Friday. The legislation will start its journey in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 28.

Committees in the Senate and House held hearings this month on a study of iGaming potential in Maryland. If SB 603 passes through both chambers and receives Gov. Wes Moore’s signature, the issue still would need voter approval in November through SB 565, a companion referendum bill.

Maryland online casino bill details

Similar to his legislation last year, Watson’s proposal would legalize online casino gaming in Maryland. In the House, Watson has support from Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, the chair of the Ways & Means Committee.

It allows the state’s six casinos to each partner with two online operators. The state could also issue five additional licenses to Maryland-based businesses.

The proposal creates a 47% tax on iGaming revenue.

Additional licenses address diversity concerns

During study hearings, several lawmakers questioned how women- and minority-owned businesses would be included in the industry. Watson’s bill includes a paragraph that expresses an intent to “maximize the ability of minorities, women, and minority- and women-owned businesses to participate in the internet gaming industry.”

“The five additional [licenses] is for minority businesses to have an opportunity to enter this arena,” Watson told LSR Monday. “There is no forcing function to require existing brick-and-mortar casinos to partner with minority companies.”

Requirements for MD online license

To acquire one of the five licenses, a company must:

  • Have maintained a headquarters in Maryland for 10 years.
  • Employ at least 250 workers in the state.
  • Own at least 5% of a video lottery operator, Maryland’s terminology for a casino.
  • Agree to operate with a brand associated with a Maryland-based applicant.
  • Commit to spend at least $5 million to build and operate a live gaming studio, or a studio for television and film productions.

Several industry sources were perplexed when asked what companies might qualify with the 5% video lottery ownership requirement. Similar DEI hopes contributed to the long delay in launching online Maryland sports betting.

Lawmaker concerns in Maryland

During the iGaming study hearings this month, legislators expressed concern over gambling cannibalization.

The report said in-person casino revenue could drop by 10%. Lawmakers are concerned about the potential job loss resulting from the drop in in-person wagering.

Along with job loss, multiple lawmakers are worried about potential increases in problem gambling.

Chipping away at online casino

Industry proponents have cooled on their expectation there could be a wave of states legalizing online casino this year. While legal sports betting has spread across the US, there are only six markets with live, legal online casinos.

Some industry sources are optimistic about Watson’s attempt this year. Still, multiple sources told LSR at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) Winter Meeting earlier this month that it will take several years to educate lawmakers and spread iGaming legalization.

“We welcome the bill as a starting point for a real conversation on iGaming,” said Howard Glaser, global head of government affairs and legislative counsel at Light & Wonder. “The details at this point are less important than the bill as a vehicle to educate legislators and stakeholders about the value of iGaming for the state budget, to protect players from the illegal market, and add job growth through online live dealer games.”

© Public Gaming Research Institute. All rights reserved.