Online casino bill passes Maryland House vote just ahead of deadline

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Maryland's House of Delegates voted to pass HB1319, a bill seeking to legalize online casinos in the state, this Saturday. The vote count stood at 92 in favor and 43 against, pushing the legislation forwardduring a special session held just two days before a March 18 deadline for bills to progress from the House to the Senate.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, the bill's primary sponsor, reiterated the necessity of regulating the existing but unregulated online gambling market in Maryland, helping the state keep gambling dollars and providing safeguards for consumers.

“Currently, in the state of Maryland, there is illegal iGaming going on to the tune of about $200 million a year where individuals are playing where there are no safeguards on there,” Atterbeary said.

The legislation now heads to the Maryland Senate, where its fate will be decided before the Senate adjourns on April 8. If successful, the bill would proceed to the November ballot for voters to have their say on the legalization of internet casinos and poker in Maryland.

Throughout its journey in the House, HB1319 underwent several amendments. One notable addition, introduced on Friday, was the inclusion of a Video Lottery Employee Displacement Fund. This amendment aimed to address concerns that online casinos might divert foot traffic from brick-and-mortar casinos, potentially leading to job losses.

While some casinos in the state, such as Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland and Ocean Downs Casino & Racetrack, have voiced opposition to the bill, citing fears of job displacement, others have openly supported the expansion of legal iGaming.

Under the plan, a total of 30 licenses may be issued. Land-based casino partners will have to give 5% of iGaming revenue share to a social equity partner, and bans have been put in place regarding the use of credit cards for internet casino gaming.

During Saturday's session, the House also considered other various proposed amendments, including measures to mandate in-person deposits for online gaming, require physical verification of identity for account creation, enforce two-factor authentication for account opening, and impose betting limits. However, all these proposed amendments were ultimately rejected.

Looking ahead, the bill faces an uncertain path in the Senate, where Senate leadership has shown reluctance to embrace the idea of legalizing online casinos. Sen. Ron Watson expressed that the Senate's priority lies in maintaining a balanced budget without introducing new taxes or revenue streams.

Despite the Senate's reservations, proponents of the bill, including Atterbeary, continue to emphasize the potential of legal iGaming revenue to support initiatives like the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund. The outcome of the Senate's deliberations will determine whether Marylanders will have the opportunity to vote on the issue later this year.