Should the sky be the limit for a sports wager? Or $5 million? Maryland regulators to decide how high bettors can go

·4 min read

To problem gambling experts, Maryland’s proposal to allow a single sports wager of up to $5 million is off — by $4.9 million. To the two companies that dominate the online betting market, there should be no limit at all.

In the three weeks before Maryland lays down the rules for how much people can wager and what aspects of games will be subject to bets, the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency is considering 351 pages of public comments. They amount to a spirited debate on what practices should be in bounds when the first state-sanctioned wagers are made in late fall or winter.

The proposed regulations cap wagers at $5 million for any one sporting event. That drew a foul call from DraftKings and FanDuel, the fantasy sports and sports betting sites.

“While a $5 million wager on a single event is large and may seem extreme, there are situations where these large wagers are actually highly calculated business decisions by individual bettors,” New York-based FanDuel wrote to the agency, which released the public comments Thursday.

The company cited the example of a Houston furniture store owner who calls himself “Mattress Mack” and runs promotions based on teams’ performances while he places “large sports wagers to offset the financial risk of the promotion.” (The store’s website Thursday promised visitors: “If the Houston Astros win the final championship series in 2021, your mattress is FREE FREE FREE!”)

To address its concerns, FanDuel suggested removing the $5 million maximum “entirely.”

Boston-based DraftKings agreed in its comments that a bettor may wish to wager more than $5 million “in certain cases.” It suggested such wagers be permitted if cleared by state regulators.

Problem gambling experts could hardly disagree more.

“It would be great to see this amount lowered to protect problem gamblers from impulsively placing a large bet that they can’t afford,” wrote Raleigh L. Burch, a counselor and corporate consultant. “It is suggested this maximum bet be lowered to $100,000 or less.”

The commenters — including casinos, horse racing interests, and other current and potential sports betting operators — addressed a number of other topics, including what bets should be prohibited, and whether gamblers can use proxies known as “runners” to make wagers for them.

The gambling agency said it would not comment about any of the regulations before they are finalized.

The public comment period ended Monday. James Butler, the agency’s regulations coordinator, said the goal is to have the final regulations published in the Oct. 22 Maryland Register.

Betting sites are expected to be licensed at the state’s six casinos, its thoroughbred horse racing tracks and the Baltimore stadium homes of the Ravens and Orioles, among other sites, as well as via apps. The sites are expected to offer pregame wagers on the outcomes of games and individual players’ performances, as well as in-game betting.

While many Marylanders likely will place bets using their phones, the proposed rules would allow runners to make bets for other people. That raised objections from several commenters, including Penn National Gaming Inc., operator of Hollywood Casino Perryville.

“Penn recommends removing the option for patrons to place a wager via a ‘runner’ or ‘proxy,’“ the company wrote.

It said such a practice could expose operators and the state to “preventable risk.” Gambling experts have warned that gambling can be used to launder money.

Among others weighing in on the rules was Major League Baseball, which said it wants to team with the state to guard against the rigging of “particularly risky” bets — such as whether a game or inning’s first pitch will be a ball or a strike. The league has said first-pitch wagers could be fixed more easily because they involve a single player in a single moment.

The NFL also expressed wariness in its comments about a particular type of bet. The proposed regulations would prohibit NFL wagers related to penalties, player disciplinary rulings and replay reviews. The league also is asking the state to add language barring bets on “any decisions of game officials.”

“While such bets currently comprise only a small fraction of wagers offered in sports betting markets (and accordingly would not have a material impact on an operator’s business if prohibited), we believe they may pose an outsized risk to the public’s perception of game integrity,” the NFL wrote.