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Lawmakers weigh whether 'iGaming' should be gambling's next move in Maryland

Hayes Gardner, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

The gambling boom is growing — and its next move could put poker chips in Marylanders’ pockets.

Just over a year after online sports betting became legal in the state, two bills in the General Assembly seek to give voters the option to legalize internet gaming, which is gambling via online slot machines, blackjack, poker and other casino games. Lawmakers heard testimony earlier this week from proponents, including casino and industry leaders, and opponents, including those concerned about the effects of problem gambling and addiction.

A Senate committee has another hearing on the issue scheduled for Wednesday.

Like the lottery decades ago and sports betting in recent years, some states have seen iGaming — as it is colloquially known — as a new revenue stream amid tight times for their budgets. Rather than raise taxes or cut services, the idea is that states can legalize and tax internet gambling (as they did with cannabis) to generate millions of dollars in annual revenue. Seven states, including several in the mid-Atlantic, have done so.

While the Maryland proposal has two different bills under discussion by delegates and state senators, legislators failed to advance a similar bill last year. While the 2023 attempt ended with a plan to study the potential outcomes of legalization, the findings of which have provided fodder for this year’s talks, one General Assembly leader rated the 2024 legislation’s chance of passing as unlikely.

Testimony came in waves Monday over more than five hours, as leaders of casinos advocated before the House Ways and Means Committee for the state to increase revenues and regulate what’s currently an illegal market. Las Vegas-based consultants and a former Michigan statehouse member, now an executive with the betting company Fanatics, spoke in support, too.

 

On the other side, the father of a compulsive gambler, a recovering addict and union employees afraid of losing their jobs argued against it. Both sides cited dueling economic studies.

What’s it worth?

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Democrat from Howard County, sponsored the House bill and chairs the Ways and Means Committee. She focused on the funds that could be raised for education, saying that it’s the committee’s job to “look at all available options to fund” the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the plan to pour billions of dollars into Maryland schools.

A report from Las Vegas consultant The Innovation Group, commissioned by the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, said legalization could generate more than $300 million in state revenue by 2029.

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©2024 The Baltimore Sun. Visit at baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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