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Maryland Online Casino Sponsor Says Issue Needs Break, Won’t File Bill In 2025

Written By Matthew Kredell | Updated:
Annapolis Maryland

Maryland has come the closest of any state to passing online casino legislation in 2024, but the Senate bill sponsor won’t be looking to build on that momentum next year.

Sen. Ron Watson told PlayUSA he doesn’t plan to file a Maryland online casino bill in 2025.

“While I could put the bill out next year, it wouldn’t move until 2026. Even if we were able to pass the bill, there would be no execution of it. So I’ll reintroduce it in 2026, and hopefully then we’ll be able to pass a bill to add this revenue stream in the state of Maryland.”

Maryland concluded its legislative session Monday with the Senate opting not to act on online casinos this year. The House passed HB1319 and included internet gaming in its budget proposal.

Legalizing online casinos in Maryland requires approval from voters in a general election. By not passing a referendum to put that question in front of voters this November, the next opportunity to get voter approval is 2026. So it makes no difference if the legislature passes iGaming in 2025 or 2026.

In 2023, Watson first introduced his iCasino bill with the hope of holding discussions to set up passage in 2024 before the election. But with extensive discussion on the issue in both the House and Senate this year, Watson doesn’t think another year of debate on Maryland online casino legislation will do any good.

“We’ve done our due diligence. We understand the revenues and the challenges. I think we could all use a break. We don’t need to waste a lot of time not undertaking iGaming. We’ll give it time to marinate and hopefully have an even stronger bill the next time it is introduced.”

It’s still possible that Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, the sponsor of the House bill, or someone else in the Maryland legislature introduce an online casino bill next year. But it appears Maryland will let the debate rest for a year and return for a strong push in 2026.

You can follow Maryland and other US online casino legislation with our online casino bill tracker.

Watson hoped to get referendum done this year

When it became apparent the Senate wouldn’t embrace online casino legislation this session, Watson proposed just passing a referendum bill to get voter approval. Then he could have returned next year and filed a bill with the iCasino details.

Getting a referendum out could have accelerated the possible Maryland online casino launch by 1.5 years.

But his colleagues weren’t receptive to legalizing iCasino before 2026. That’s when he knew it was best not to introduce a bill next year and give the issue a break.

“I tried my best to push just doing the referendum since I saw there was no drive to push forward the full bill,” Watson said. “But the thought, at least in the Senate, was let’s wait a year. Let’s make sure we fully understand the impacts of sports betting before we go down this course of action.”

Atterbeary focused her House push on generating revenue to fund the educational Blueprint for Maryland’s Future for 2028 and beyond. The Senate wasn’t looking that far ahead, which Watson found shortsighted because the market needs time to reach maturity. But he hopes to find more urgency in his Senate colleagues in 2026.

“I give a lot of respect to Del. Atterbeary, who really pushed for this. The House was very proactive in trying to recognize future budgetary challenges and putting this in place so we would be ready when those changes come. I know Del. Atterbeary is on board for leading this push again in the future. We worked together very closely on the issue, and I’m sure we’ll work together again in 2026 to see how we can get it across the finish line.”

Watson hopes some of obstacles work themselves out

According to Watson, reasons the Senate wouldn’t agree to put online casino in the state budget included:

  • The Senate came up with a balanced budget plan without iCasino revenue.
  • Colleagues wanted more time to observe problem gambling impacts of Maryland online sports betting, which launched in November 2022.
  • Two of the state’s six casinos expressed concerns over cannibalization.
  • Labor union workers were worried about online gaming causing job losses at brick-and-mortar casinos.

Watson said he hopes that some of those concerns fade before he reintroduces his online casino bill in 2026.

“The more time goes by and the more data points we have, I believe we’ll be able to show this is not the monsters-under-the-bed scenario a lot of people talk about. The world is not going to come to an end. This will shore up the Maryland gaming industry and make us more competitive.”

Watson thinks the casinos opposed to iGaming might come around by 2026 after seeing how new casinos in neighboring Virginia cannibalize brick-and-mortar casino operations in Maryland.

“The state was late in respect to table gaming and late in respect to sports betting,” Watson said. “We don’t want to be late to iGaming as well. If we want to sustain and grow current industry revenues in Maryland, we have to be proactive and this is something the state must do.”

Watson is optimistic that Maryland can get online casino legalization done in 2026.

“I have no doubt that a lot of my colleagues understand that the modernization of iGaming is going to happen sooner rather than later. So it’s something we have to get a grip on and understand this is a vital revenue stream that continues to remain untapped in the state of Maryland.”

Photo by Susan Walsh/AP file photo
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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