Sports Betting Regulations Give Assist To Maryland Soccer Club’s Chances

Posted By Derek Helling on July 29, 2021

A reading of one part of the draft sports betting regulations for Maryland sports betting seems to set up the potential for a future soccer club to apply for licensure someday. However, there are other ways to read the list of applicants qualified to apply for the state’s top-tier license, which could have implications for Maryland Bobcats FC.

Additionally, the NISA club that plays its home matches in Boyds might have other options besides the A1 licensure. In fact, other paths to Maryland sports betting might be more feasible for the club in the near term.

A path to a top-tier license for Maryland Bobcats FC

Earlier this month, the MD Lottery & Gaming Control Commission published a set of draft regulations. The rules are pending legislative review. There is also a public comment period that will take place before finalization. So, everything in the rules is provisional right now.

On page 56 of the document, the Commission makes clear what parties are eligible for an A1 license. That’s the most expensive license class of four, costing $2 million to apply for and $6 million to acquire for a five-year period. Among the parties that Class A1 licenses can only be issued to is:

“The owner, or the designee of the owner, of a professional soccer league franchise, that is a lessee of a stadium in the State.”

The rules do not state that such a club must play its matches in MLS or the NWSL, the top-tier men’s and women’s soccer leagues in North America. They only require professionalism and that the club lease a stadium in MD.

Maryland Bobcats FC fits both of those descriptions. Whether the club has the resources to apply for an A1 sports betting license, then operate such an enterprise, is uncertain. However, it technically qualifies.

If the $8 million upfront plus other costs are too rich for their blood, they have options. Other paths to getting a cut of the sports betting industry in MD present a lower barrier to entry financially. There could be enough value to represent a return on that investment, too.

Alternative routes to a sports betting product

The route to getting in on the sports betting boon might not involve a license at all. The club could instead let some partner carry that expense and handle the sportsbook’s operation. Bobcats FC could simply license its name and trademarks to that company.

Another possibility is the club’s ownership could open up a tangential business like a sports bar near the Maryland Soccer Complex. That would potentially enable them to apply for a Class B2 license. The application cost for that is just $50,000. That license class also bears just a $150,000 acquisition fee.

While that would represent more upfront costs and overhead, it would afford more control over the product. Either way, a branded sportsbook could prove to be a worthy supporter engagement tool as the club builds its fan base. There is one other consideration, however.

It isn’t clear yet whether betting on Bobcats FC matches will be permissible in MD. Many jurisdictions with legal sports betting only allow wagers on top-tier leagues. The NISA doesn’t fit that description right now. However, that isn’t the case across the board. For example, Illinois allows NISA bets.

The current draft rules leave it to licensees to propose the lists of events they would like to offer betting on. If that doesn’t eventually include Bobcats FC matches, there is less value in sports betting for the club.

So far, NISA clubs haven’t engaged in monetizing sports betting angles. If that’s going to happen anywhere soon, Maryland just might be the place.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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