State regulators approved applications from 10 mobile sports betting companies on Wednesday. The move sets the stage for Marylanders to place legal bets on their phones for the first time, perhaps as soon as next week.
The apps represented an interesting mix of well-known industry players and local businesses. The Sports Betting Application Review Commission (SWARC) approved all 10 unanimously, with virtually no public discussion. The applicants were subjected to rigorous screening before the vote, officials said.
The vote represented a key step in a journey that took a long time. The Supreme Court paved the way for states to allow sports betting in 2018. Maryland voters approved a referendum on the issue in 2020, and a small number of businesses, mostly casinos, began accepting on-site wagers at events. sports. the last December.
But punters have eagerly awaited the ability to place bets at any time of the day on their mobile devices. Applicants approved Wednesday must undergo system testing by the Maryland Bureau of Lottery and Gaming. Once that happens, they’ll get the go-ahead.
The go-ahead is expected to arrive in time for the NFL Thanksgiving slate of games.
“Mobile devices will account for the lion’s share of sports betting and we are eager to allow Maryland to enter that market,” SWARC President Tom Brandt said. He admitted that “it’s taken us a while to get to this point.”
Maryland has lagged behind other states in defending its sports betting industry. Because the legislature committed to the state having a diverse set of licensees, regulators had to conduct a study to determine what barriers to entry might exist for minority- and women-owned businesses.
To further those goals, several of the initial batch applicants followed a 95/5 model, where an established sports gaming entity owns almost all of their Maryland startup, with a local partner joining as a minority shareholder.
It could not immediately be known how many of the initial 10 mobile gambling companies are minority or female owned, but Frank Turner, a former state delegate and SWARC member, said several are. Among them: Long Shot’s, a sports bar in Frederick, which is owned by a woman, and Riverboat on the Potomac, in Colonial Beach, Virginia (but technically a Maryland business because it sits on the Potomac River), which is owned of a minority. .
“The commissioners certainly made a good faith effort to encourage people to participate in the process,” Turner said. “I think we did relatively well, considering how far we’ve come.” Lottery and Gaming is still reviewing an additional 11 applications, he noted.
SWARC approved operators (and their operating partners) are:
- Arundel Amusements, Inc. (World of Bingo with Rush Street Interactive)
- BetMGM Maryland Sports (MGM National Port)
- Online Game Crown MD (DraftKings)
- CZR Maryland Mobile Opportunity, LLC (Caesars Entertainment/Horseshoe Casino Baltimore)
- Greenmount OTB (with PARX Interactive Maryland)
- Long Shot’s (with BetFred)
- Maryland Stadium Sub (FedExField, home of the NFL’s Washington Commanders with Fanatics)
- PENN Maryland OSB (PENN Entertainment/Hollywood Casino Perryville)
- PPE Maryland Mobile (Live! Casino & Hotel with FanDuel Sportsbook Maryland)
- Riverboat on the Potomac (with PointsBet)
A challenging market for smaller operators
With online sports betting days away, industry analysts said Maryland can expect a deluge of advertising and marketing efforts. Operators believe that being the first app on a player’s device can pay dividends down the road.
“This is the time for operators to go through a very strong period of customer acquisition,” said Matt Schoch, senior content manager at PlayMaryland.com, an industry site. He said the NFL limits the number of betting ads on its broadcasts, but regional sports networks don’t. “That’s when it’s a little bit of a free-for-all,” he said.
Commissioners were told many of Maryland’s applicants are extremely well capitalized, with cash on hand of $1 billion or more in some cases. Companies with deep pockets have clear advantages over startups, Schoch said. One is your established brand identification; another is its ability to absorb the up-front costs associated with attracting customers.
Most big companies offer incentives, often labeled “no risk” or “free” bets, to win newcomers. “These offers are not going to get any better for bettors,” Schoch said. “If you want to sign up for apps, you must do so during the launch period.” (He and other experts caution that consumers should examine the fine print on such offers.)
Some companies have moved away from “free” bets and have started offering three-month subscriptions to services like NBA League Pass, the professional basketball streaming service.
According to iGamingNext.com, top seven companies — FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars, BetRivers, Barstool and PointsBet — control nearly 97% of the action across the country. That doesn’t leave much room for smaller operators.
“It is a huge challenge. We haven’t seen many of those operators succeed,” Schoch said. “The well-known brands are getting all the action. Mid-tier to smaller brands are not getting the volume they need.”
“Sports betting is a low-margin industry for operators,” he added. “It’s a tough business to run.”