WNBA Player Is Proof Maryland’s Sports Betting Minority Inclusion Initiatives Work

Posted By Derek Helling on July 14, 2021

Many times in life, governing bodies fail to deliver on the best of intentions. So far, it appears that isn’t the case with Maryland gambling minority initiatives. Tenets in the state’s new gambling expansion law that aim to level the playing field for small, minority-owned, and women-owned businesses in the state look like they’re hitting that target.

For those looking for proof of that success, cast your gaze at Marissa Coleman. The MD sports icon has become a model for how Black women like herself can get in the game.

Coleman’s role in the Maryland gambling minority initiatives

Basketball fans in the DMV probably recognize Coleman’s name for other reasons. Coleman played her high school basketball at St. John’s in Washington, DC. Shen then was part of the University of Maryland’s 2006 national championship basketball team.

In 2013, she started an AAU program for girls in Washington, DC. She also spent 10 seasons in the WNBA, reaching the Finals and achieving All-Star status in 2015.

Since she left the WNBA, she’s been equally as successful as an entrepreneur in the DMV. She co-owns a Mellow Mushroom franchise in Roanoke, VA, with another former WNBA player, Alana Beard. She’s studying at Georgetown University for her MBA currently.

Coleman’s first prominent role when it came to gambling was as chair of the Vote Yes on Question 2 campaign. Under Coleman’s leadership, the campaign was pivotal in legalizing Maryland sports betting at the ballot box last November. Voters approved Question 2 by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.

Coleman didn’t rest on her laurels at that point, however. In fact, her work with the campaign was merely a preface. Her activism on the same matter since November’s victory has made a larger impact on her community.

Coleman’s work to open doors for minorities, women in MD

When the MD legislature ramped up drafting enabling legislation for the gambling expansion voters authorized, Coleman got into that game, too. True to form, she dominated.

“I was a huge advocate and lobbied for the meaningful inclusion and participation for women and minorities to be written into the legislation,” Coleman explained. “More often than not, women and underrepresented minorities are left out of these once-in generational opportunities and burgeoning industries. These unicorn opportunities do not come around often, and what you tend to see is that these opportunities are only presented to a certain group of people. When these industries are introduced or made aware to the general public, deals are already made, partnerships are already formed and it is too late for people to enter a particular industry.”

Coleman says she learned lessons from another expansion of enterprise worked into a change of legal status. She sees legal sports betting in Maryland as a way to put “actions behind words of support” and address the systemic racism people like her face.

“When medical marijuana was legalized in Maryland, not a single license was initially issued to a woman or minority,” Coleman went on. “This was Maryland’s chance to not only rectify that hiccup but also set the standard and become industry examples for future states on how to enact meaningful and inclusive legislation for legalized sports betting.”

Has that legislation actually proven meaningful? It’s early but so far, that seems to be the case. The new Sports Wagering Application Review Commission has stellar diversity. Additionally, attendees to a recent summit on the emerging industry represented a diverse field of interest. Coleman herself is an example.

Coleman has led by example in this regard

Delmock Entertainment (another minority-owned business) and the Riverboat on the Potomac have made Coleman their Vice President of Marketing. Last month, the Riverboat on the Potomac made a deal to give PointsBet Sportsbook market access into MD.

Coleman also says that conversations are ongoing with PointsBet about using her in local marketing materials. All of these developments are great for Coleman. They are also totally by design. Parties to this deal are simply following the legislation’s road map.

The provisions that Coleman helped get into MD’s sports betting law make Coleman’s role beneficial for her partners. For example, Coleman gets some equity in the Riverboat on the Potomac as part of her compensation. For that reason, the Riverboat might get priority access to a license.

“The minority inclusion language that is included in the bill that mandates opportunities for minority-owned businesses was huge and first of its kind,” Coleman said. “I believe Maryland will now provide a blueprint for how to have meaningful minority inclusion as other states continue to legalize sports betting. Minority business owners are often afterthoughts and left out of the conversation in these once-in-a-generation type industries and opportunities. Opportunity is not evenly distributed, but, with the language in the bill, it ensures minorities will be provided the opportunity to fairly compete for the chance at a sports betting license.”

Coleman says one of her goals is to become a prominent figure and executive in the sports betting industry. She seems well on her way toward that end. Due to the Maryland gambling minority initiatives she helped craft, she probably won’t be the only woman or member of a racial minority to do so in the state.

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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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