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Maryland Gaming Chief: State Will ‘Keep An Eye On’ New Jersey’s Internet Games

Stephen Martino, Director Of State's Lotto, Talks Gaming Future


Just like in a game of poker, the state of Maryland has been reacting to the aggressive betting moves of others at its table.

Maryland is in a region full of various gaming expansion initiatives. Earlier this year, its first casino debuted live dealer table games. The move is expected to significantly strengthen the industry there. It also doesn’t hurt that Caesars Entertainment will open a casino in Baltimore and that MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming are battling it out for approval to build in Prince George’s County. In terms of gaming, Maryland will be busy for quite some time.

Card Player had the chance to speak with Stephen Martino, the Director of the State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, about the importance of these games, whether Maryland has been looking at possibly offering Internet poker, as well as what effect New Jersey winning its sports betting battle would have on Maryland and other states in the region at large.

Brian Pempus: Can you talk about how table games in the state have fared so far?

Stephen Martino: We think it has been a positive development for the Maryland casinos. I think it was passed with a couple of things in mind. One was creating economic development opportunity through the hiring of a a large number of people to work on them, and that’s what happened. Also, I think that the feeling, and I believe it was accurate, was that Maryland casinos were never going to be regionally competitive without table games. I think we had perfectly fine regional facilities that were slots-only, but there was still going to be a large number of people who would drive to states — West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware — and gamble because we didn’t have dealer-operated table games. The addition of those at three of our four casinos has changed that dynamic, and I think that we have been able to redirect some of that money back into the state of Maryland.

Our gaming industry is still in its infancy or maybe in its toddler stages now. We opened our first casino less than three years ago, and there has been rapid development of the gaming industry in the mid-Atlantic. It is a hyper-competitive gaming environment. I think to the extent that there was anything that kept us from being competitive…it was an issue that we wanted to address, and the legislature did last year. The question was taken to the voters and they voted in favor of getting table games and adding the additional license in Prince George’s County. So, I think that specific to table games, there were competitive concerns and obviously wanting to get this additional economic benefit in the form of the jobs it would create.

BP: Can you talk about any future of online gaming in Maryland? Do you view the implementation of table games as a necessary step to eventually off similar games on the Internet?

SM: That really has not been discussed at all. That just hasn’t come up yet in our public policy development. It would take action by the legislature. I think the feeling is to get the casinos up and going, continue to measure what the competitive forces are around us, to the extent that we consider New Jersey to be a distant competitor. Two of the four states that are kind of in our competitive area have or are going down the road with some form of online gaming, and that’s something we are going to have to keep an eye on.

BP: Is it advantageous to see how these other jurisdictions do online gaming? You could maybe learn from some of their mistakes or know how to do it better when Maryland is ready.

SM: Somebody has to be first. I would hope that their developments go as they would want them to. But yeah, that is how this entire [casino and gaming] industry has grown. It started initially in Nevada, and moved over to New Jersey. A lot of states have a largely crafted their [gaming] regulatory systems based on one of those two states. They have matured and developed beyond that. If we are ever in a position where we are looking to implement some form of online gaming, we will certainly look at the states that have gone before to get perspective and a handle on the best practices.

BP: You mentioned New Jersey, and they want to go ahead with sports betting. If it wins its case and eventually is allowed to offer that type of betting, do you think that others in the region could also pursue it, and would that be something Maryland might entertain down the line?

SM: Well, I think — again sports betting is illegal — between efforts in New Jersey to either overturn the law through litigation or have it done in Congress; I would think that the former is far more likely than the latter…I think that is something that there’s going to be a lot of interest in. I think that there is quite an appetite for sports betting. When I go out and talk to people in the community and boards that I am on, no one really asks about online, but probably the biggest question I get from people is when will we get sports betting here. You explain to them that it’s prohibited by federal law and what all it would take to get in there — obviously people are not aware of that — but I think that if something were to happen in New Jersey you would certainly see a lot of other states run to it. I think throughout the country there is probably a ferocious appetite for sports wagering, both on games and fantasy leagues and all iterations of it.

BP: For the casual observer who doesn’t know too much about the state’s gaming industry, what can one look forward happening in Maryland in 2014?

SM: In 2014 you are going to see a maturity of our casinos and we can start getting into year-over-year numbers on the tables. The other big thing would obviously be the opening of Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore City. That will rearrange the gambling landscape here a bit and we will get five of the six licenses up. 2014 will be an active year for us.

Image via the Associated Press.