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Maryland regulators are set to advance the state’s first 10 online sports betting licenses Thursday, the next key step in what has been the nation’s lengthiest mobile sportsbook launch process.

The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission will hold hearings on 10 sportsbooks intending to launch in the state. That includes FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Caesars, which between them have more than 80% of the US sports betting market share.

Applications from Rush Street Interactive (BetRivers), Penn Entertainment (Barstool Sportsbook) and PointsBet, typically the next three operators by market share in most states in which all the aforementioned companies accept wagers, are also on Thursday’s agenda. All seven of these companies either already run retail sportsbooks in the state or have announced plans to do so.

Betfred and betPARX, which have been comparatively minor players in the US market, are also pursuing licensure. The 10th applicant is Fanatics, the sporting goods retailer-turned-sportsbook operator that has not launched an online sports betting platform in any jurisdiction. Along with Maryland, the company is looking to launch in Ohio as well as potentially a dozen more jurisdictions.

Approval for any (or all) of these operators continues the trajectory for a Maryland mobile sports betting launch sometime by year’s end. It will be more than 18 months from online sports betting legalization bill signing to first bet, the longest turnaround of any of the more than 20 legal digital wagering states.

Maryland voters technically approved retail and online sportsbooks in November 2020 by approving an amendment to the state constitution. Lawmakers passed an ensuing regulatory bill that was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan in May 2021, but it has taken more than a year and a half to start taking bets.

The amendment required regulators to consider women, minority and small business ownership stakes when promulgating rules for sportsbook licensure. This included the lengthy wait for a disparity study evaluating these conditions, a process that prolonged the process by months.

The ensuing law also created a second licensing board, the Sports Wagering Application Review Commission (SWARC), that also has to sign off on each licensee. The SWARC’s obligations in addition to the duties of the Gaming Commission have likewise delayed the statewide mobile launch.

Under pressure from Hogan, gambling stakeholders and a vocal contingent of would-be Maryland bettors, both the Gaming Commission and SWARC earlier this fall began advancing key approvals with the hopes mobile wagering could begin before the end of the calendar year. The SWARC is set to meet in late November for final approvals, and the first mobile books could begin taking bets in the ensuing weeks.

Maryland will not have a universal start date for online sportsbooks, a move that will help speed up the launch procedings. Once approved, individual books will not have to wait for a predetermined date to start taking bets, a practice common in most states.

Maryland’s online sportsbooks are expected to make up more than 90% of the state’s total wagering handle. Though there are retail books at most state casinos as well as several other facilities, the ability to place a wager from a mobile device will make digital wagering the far more lucrative option.

Every jurisdiction bordering Maryland already has some form of legal sports betting. Maryland’s 2021 sports betting law will permit up to 60 mobile operators, but it is unlikely the state reaches that figure in the coming years (if ever); only New Jersey and Colorado have more than 20 sportsbooks apiece.

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