Local OTB hopes legislature all in on sports betting bill

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Steve Bohnel, The Frederick News-Post, Md.
·5 min read
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Apr. 9—ANNAPOLIS — With less than a week before the scheduled end of the 2021 Maryland General Assembly, Alyse Cohen and Randy Cohen are hoping a sports betting bill will make it to Gov. Larry Hogan's (R) desk.

That's because off-track betting business Long Shot's in Frederick County could apply for retail and mobile sports betting licenses if House Bill 940 passes both the House and Senate and Hogan signs it.

Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) and Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll) are two delegation members who helped lead efforts to have Long Shot's included in the overall sports wagering bill. They both said this week the county is losing tax revenue because those who want to bet on sports can travel to the casino in Charles Town, West Virginia, or drive up to Pennsylvania.

Last year, roughly 67 percent of Maryland voters approved a ballot referendum allowing sports betting. This session, it's up to lawmakers to determine how to implement that measure.

Pippy and Hough both noted Long Shot's location as one reason why the business should be able to receive a license. They also noted it is a woman-owned business — something lawmakers have wanted to prioritize when determining who can apply for licenses.

It's important enough that the entire delegation sent a letter of support to House and Senate leadership urging them to help Long Shot's get a license, Pippy said.

A license would help generate economic activity in the area, Hough said. Malls nationwide are hurting as online shopping increases, he added.

"The whole economy of shopping malls is struggling," Hough said. "I think economic development in that area is important, and if we're able to get that license, they'll have an ability to do a lot of development ... and I think it could be a real boon out there."

Initially, the House bill, sponsored by Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), offered a limited number of licenses to casinos and off-track betting sites. It offered up to five licenses for Class B establishments — like Long Shot's — and up to 10 licenses for mobile licenses, which is where most of the tax revenue will likely be generated.

It's unclear how much money sports wagering would raise for the Blueprint for Maryland's Future, or Kirwan bill. That legislation is a massive revamp of public education statewide, including provisions such as universal pre-K, higher teacher pay, more career training among others.

An independent, nonpartisan analysis by the Department of Legislative Services estimated it would raise about $18.2 million in the first year. But members of the Senate Budget and Taxation committee said this week they were unsure how precise that figure is.

Randy Cohen, who owns the Clarion Inn on Holiday Drive where Long Shot's is located, said given this speculation, it would be hard to determine how much local tax revenue would be generated. But he thanked the county's delegates and senators.

"By having a sincere and strong delegation in Annapolis, Frederick has a voice at the table," Cohen, who is Alyse Cohen's father, wrote in a text message.

Alyse Cohen, owner of Long Shot's, testified multiple times this session that her business is ready to apply for a sports wagering license, and that it would have a substantial impact on central Maryland.

Rick Weldon, CEO and president of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, also called on lawmakers to include Long Shot's in the final package.

The end of session is approaching quickly, but Sen. Chris Zucker (D-Montgomery) introduced more than 20 amendments on the Senate floor Thursday, which, if agreed to by the House, would help Long Shot's chances.

Those amendments lifted the cap on the number of licenses the newly-formed Sports Wagering Application Control Review Commission could award to casinos, off-track betting facilities, mobile entities and other businesses.

Long Shot's would likely be classified as Class B-1 or Class B-2, meaning it would need to pay either $250,000 or $50,000 up front and $50,000 or $10,000 annually five years after that. Zucker also said on the floor Thursday a trust fund would be set up to help minority and woman-owned businesses to pay those license fees.

The fund would likely have just south of $1 million, which could help up to 17 businesses pay the initial license fees, Zucker said. Mobile licenses would cost $500,000 initially and then $100,000 annually after 5 years.

Before the floor session Thursday, Zucker said it was evident from last year's referendum results that Marylanders across the state wanted sports betting, and he hopes the Senate amendments make that more accessible.

Nearby states Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia and Virginia have all approved in-person and mobile sports betting.

"We expect the ... final bill to keep us competitive with other states, and making sure the free market takes care of itself and that everybody has an opportunity to engage in sports betting," Zucker said.

He seemed hopeful the House and Senate would be able to work out any differences given the Senate amendments.

In her testimony before the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee in late March, Alyse Cohen explained why it would be beneficial for Long Shot's to have both a retail and mobile sports betting license.

"As an independent [off-track betting site] and woman-owned business, Long Shot's will not only spur economic growth in the Frederick community via local job creation and tax revenue generation but serve as an example to other women looking to enter a male-dominated industry," she said.

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