Election Coverage: Could Maryland Legalize Sports Betting?

As I stated in my previous article on Maryland’s 2020 election, Maryland is an often overlooked state when it comes to elections. Whether it’s the presidential race, a congressional race, or a state assembly race, Maryland almost always goes blue (with the recent exception of the gubernatorial race).

So as far as electoral races go, they’re generally not that exciting. What is of interest on my Anne Arundel County ballot, however, are some of the local propositions. In this article and another focused on institutional reform, I’ll be discussing some local ballot initiatives that are personally intriguing.

What Do I Need to Know?

Back in 2008, Marylanders voted to legalize gambling in their state. The proposed constitutional amendment, also known as Question 2, allowed five video lottery licenses to be built in Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue educational institutions. The initiative also approved the placement of 15,000 slot machines at five locations throughout the state.

At the time, the decision to allow gambling was not highly contested. Then-Governor Martin O’Malley was in support of the amendment, which won nearly 59% of the vote. Arguments in support included the fact that legalizing gambling would provide Maryland with an extra source of funding, and that teachers and other educators would suffer with fewer resources.

Arguments against the amendment included claims that state-sanctioned gambling is a form of regressive taxation, and that gambling was unethical and would lead to a rise in crime. Although this argument did not prevail at the time, it nearly did with the Arundel Mills Mall Casino Referendum of 2010. This attempt to suspend the 2008 casino approval lost by an 11% margin, but the advertising was very effective—I have vivid childhood memories of this strange ad in particular.

Two years later, another gambling expansion question was approved by an even smaller margin—less than 4%. This measure allowed a sixth casino to be built in Prince George’s County, and expanded the type of gambling allowed at existing casinos.

This election, Maryland faces another possibility of gambling expansion. Question 2, Commercial Gaming Expansion Referendum, asks voters this: “Do you approve the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and events betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?”

Basically, the question asks voters if they’d like to legalize sports betting in Maryland. Any tax revenue generated by sports betting would then be required to primarily fund education.

If Maryland votes to approve this measure, it will be the 20th state or district to do so. Unlike some past gambling questions, the measure is already widely supported in the Maryland State House and Senate—the only reason this amendment is even up for a vote is because Article XIX of the Maryland constitution requires it.

How Does This Affect Me?

Besides the fact that sports betting undeniably adds an element of excitement to sports events, sports betting in Maryland and other states can greatly aid the economy, by allowing the state to benefit from the massive taxes that betting inevitably creates. Additionally, sports betting has and will continue to exist, whether it’s legal or not.

On the downside, sports betting has the potential to promote addiction among those that struggle with the disease. It will also alter the nature of Maryland sports, furthering their commercialization and reducing wholesome competition.

Of course, the big question remains—did Maryland’s previous gambling measures actually expand education budgets as intended? Well, no. While the money certainly came rolling in, most of it was allocated by the governor to areas other than education. Overall, the casino money “has not increased funding for public education,” said Cheryl Bost, the president of the Maryland State Education Association, in 2018.

In fact, the additional education funding was so poor that it prompted Question 1 in 2018, which asked voters to amend the Maryland state constitution to dedicate specific revenue from the video lotteries to education as supplementary funding via lockbox. It was approved.

What Can I Do About It?

Maryland’s referendum comes after a 26-year-long federal ban on sports betting was reversed by the Supreme Court in 2018. Since the referendum is very likely to become law in Maryland this year and in other states to follow, be on the lookout for addictive tendencies in yourself and your loved ones as sports betting becomes more common.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides excellent and informative addiction counseling services and reports. If you ever feel like you need immediate help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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