ANNAPOLIS – Maryland once said it would only have slots in racetracks.
But that was before the existing slots casinos were approved by voters four years ago. It was even longer before Question 7 was passed last month, allowing table games at the five existing casinos and adding a sixth location at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.
So, with Delaware already offering legalized sports gambling, and New Jersey planning to follow suit to stay competitive in the gambling-saturated northeast corridor, could Maryland soon join its neighbors and permit sports wagers?
Policy-makers in the state aren’t betting on it.
“It’s not something that has come up in any conversations,” said Barbara Frush, a state delegate who represents Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. “Nothing has ever been mentioned. It hasn’t been brought up.”
Currently, Marylanders still need to go the traditional route to place a sports wager. That requires a trip to Nevada, Montana, Oregon or Delaware, as these are the only states to have legal sports gambling.
For the more technologically inclined gamblers, there are the quasi-legal online betting sites, although their legitimacy is cloudy at best.
If Maryland was going to explore the possibility of sports betting, it would be a surprise to Donald F. Norris, chair of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“I haven’t heard anything of it,” he said. “I’m willing to guess that the current governor is so fed up with the gambling issue that I’m sure he will not support anything.”
For Maryland to press sports betting, Norris said there would need to be more active supporters throughout the state.
“If there’s no demand, there’s not likely to be legislation,” he said. “I don’t see anything being put forward with regard to gambling.”
He added: “Who can predict the future?”
Citing strict federal laws, among several factors, other experts outside Maryland don’t expect gambling to be the new frontier, either.
Koleman Strumpf, professor of economics at the University of Kansas School of Business, agreed with Norris, saying that there isn’t a “large, or well-organized, interest group in favor of legal sports betting.”
Strumpf has done research into the illegal aspects of sports betting, particularly in New York City.
“There’s almost surely illegal sports betting in Maryland. It’s everywhere,” he said. “(If legalized), will it get worse, better or extreme? That’s difficult to answer. It depends on how it’s brought to the state.”
In Delaware, Strumpf said he sees the sports gaming industry as a small portion of gambling in the state.
Delaware opted to legalize sports betting in an effort to resuscitate the horse racing scene, Strumpf said. Parlay betting – individual wagers dependent on other wagers to win – began in 2009, and recently has been expanded to retail locations throughout the state.
The state can tax the process, and with legalization, he said, the illegal parts get pushed out. In a perfect world, Strumpf could see the whole operation being regulated on a much stricter basis.
Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, doesn’t see a reason for states to push for legalized sports bets.
“Historically, it has been a very small portion of the revenue stream,” he said.
Eadington said sports betting would absolutely attract different gamblers, who then might be interested in playing other games while in the casino. Regardless, he points out that the addition of sports betting would only increase revenue for casinos by about 1 percent to 1.5 percent.
Further, there are many obstacles on the federal front. In 1992, the “Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act” was passed, banning sports wagering in 46 states, including Maryland.
Last year, voters in New Jersey approved sports betting in Atlantic City casinos. The legislation is being challenged in federal court, but state officials still plan to implement the Nevada-style wagers in January.
Eadington called any Maryland pursuit of sports betting a “long shot,” but notes that the New Jersey legislation will ultimately be the deciding factor.
“(Sports betting) is still a fairly small segment of the market. It’s smaller than anything in general,” he said.
Along with the federal snags that hinder any potential sports betting expansion in Maryland, having major athletic organizations as an opponent further complicates the issue.
Earlier this year, the Washington Redskins organization came forward in support of Question 7 for Maryland. But according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, the league will not go any further in endorsing the gaming industry.
“We’re very much opposed to the gambling on our games because of the threat to the integrity of our game and the risks that come with it,” he said. “We don’t think our players should be used as bait for gambling.”
History is full of gambling scandals in professional and amateur sports. Probably the most famous is the Black Sox Scandal, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life for their involvement in an alleged betting operation in the World Series.
Many can also look to Major League Baseball’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, as an example of how betting can jeopardize athletic competition. Rose admitted to betting on games while involved in the league as both a player and a manager, and has also been banned from the sport.
More recently, National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy resigned from the league in 2007 after an investigation of his sports betting activities. Donaghy was said to have wagered on games he officiated.
To combat any possible corruption, the NCAA will not operate any sporting competitions or tournaments in states where sports betting is legal. With the recent New Jersey legislation, the NCAA has threatened to remove all athletic tournaments from the state.
The University of Maryland has held regional games for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in the past. If legislation for sports betting were to pass, these games would likely be moved elsewhere.
Currently, there is no pending legislation in Maryland to expand gambling to sports wagers.
“It’s always possible that somebody could pursue it,” Norris said. “I just can’t foresee that happening.”