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Maryland lawmakers pondering new online gaming bill

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A bill to expand gambling in Maryland received some attention during the state’s Senate hearings on Wednesday. The legislation intends to eliminate the last obstructions to unrestricted gaming in the state.

The proposal would request the support of local voters in a November 2024 referendum to legalize online casinos. At the moment, tables games – such as baccarat, blackjack, craps and roulette – are limited to Maryland casino premises. If passed, the bill would allow licensed operators to offer online slots, virtual table games and other casino-style gaming options.

The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Ron Watson (D-Prince George). Maryland’s educational sector would benefit from the funds generated by the casino expansion — particularly the education reform initiative, the Blueprint.

Sen. Watson’s bill will allow gaming operators to apply for licenses to offer online gaming. Out of the profits acquired from internet gaming, the licensed companies will remit 15% to the Education Trust Fund. The online gaming permits will cost $500,000 and last five years.

Sen. Watson emphasized the importance of internet gaming and how it would contribute to the state’s efforts with the Blueprint.

“We are missing one vital component with respect to gaming and that’s the fourth leg of the casino tool, which is (internet) gaming. The fundamental aspect of this bill, it creates a new funding stream for education, and I have deep concerns that we need to do what we can to support our Blueprint,” he said.

“I am grateful for the efforts to fund the Blueprint but we have all seen and been briefed, that we have some significant challenges to meet in the out years. According to the Comptroller’s Office and detailed in the fiscal note, as much as $97 million could be generated by fiscal year 2028.”

Sen. Watson said legislators had to be “very open minded” when it came to finding new revenue streams for public projects.

“I think we’ve gotten past that sensitive spot of ‘Should we or shouldn’t we do this?’ Now, it’s all about how can we capitalize on it? How can we use it to generate Black wealth, if that’s possible? How can we make more wealth in our state?” he said.

According to Budget and Taxation Committee members, the online gambling proposal is still in its early stages and needs some work.

The bill is expected to provide around $72 million annually to the state’s educational sector from its 15% tax. Legislative analysts stated that due to the variability of the neighboring states, it was difficult to calculate the proposal’s financial impact. There is also the fact that online gaming could cause a reduction in lottery sales and in-person gambling.

Unsurprisingly, there has been opposition to the bill to expand online gaming. According to Stop Predatory Gambling & Campaign for Gambling-Free Kids, gambling addiction is now classified on the same level as other kinds of addictions like cocaine, heroin, and opioids. Online gambling is seen as even more dangerous as it allows the user to bet in their homes without going to a gaming hall.

The group also noted that in FY 2022, Maryland residents parted with at least $3 billion to government-run gambling operations. They had also lost at least $23 billion since gambling was legalized in 2010.

Maryland lawmakers still have to attend to a number of other gaming issues this year. These include proposals for modification of the number of gaming machines allowed in bingo parlors and a bill to permit St. Mary’s County senior centers to host gaming.

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