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The Ocean Downs Casino near Ocean Pines is one of several gambling spots across the state awaiting word on a sport betting license.

(May 28, 2021)  With capacity restrictions and mask mandates lifted, Ocean Downs Casino is fully back in business, and as soon as a state licensing commission gives the greenlight, a sports book will join the floor.

But with the committee that will pass judgment on sports betting operations not yet formed, officials are unsure of when the new practice will begin at the Route 589 gambling spot.

Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan signed a state sports betting measure into law, thus beginning the process of divvying out licenses to casinos, professional sports stadiums, small businesses and mobile operators.

Ocean Downs is one of several gambling facilities across the state seeking an A-2 license to open a retail sportsbook inside the casino.

“Our property qualifies as an A-2 license,” Ocean Downs General Manager Bobbi Sample said via email this week. “According to the signed law, a Sports Wagering Application Review Committee (SWARC) will be formed to award the licenses. The committee has not yet been formed. Once it is, we will submit the application for our property and move forward.”

The details of when and how the sportsbook will operate, if the license is approved, is up to the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Agency, which Sample said is drafting the sports wagering regulations for the lottery commission to approve.

“These regulations will include the types of bets that will be allowed,” she said.

Sample added that the casino will have a designated sportsbook area, and that the timeline for creating it will depend on when the license is granted and the process for licensing equipment and service vendors.

Initially, she said the goal was to have it up and running for the upcoming NFL season, but she is unsure if that is feasible.

In the meantime, the casino is nearly back to pre-covid operations. Sample said the strict capacity restrictions that were put into place during the height of the pandemic were loosened earlier this year but social distancing regulations and mask mandates remained until the middle of May.

“On our gaming floor, we had many games out of service and fewer seats at our table games in order to comply with the social distancing restriction,” she said.

“On [May 15] after approval from the Worcester County Health Department and the Maryland Lottery & Gaming Control Agency, we removed the mask mandate and made them optional for guests. We also put all of our games back into service and increased the seating capacity at our table games and in the racing clubhouse.”

Live racing is also returning to Ocean Downs June 6.

We will have live racing every Sunday, Monday and Wednesday through September 15th with the exception of July 4th,” Sample said. “We plan to offer the ostrich and camel races that have been so popular in the past as well as nightly entertainment and games.”

The sports betting legislation that passed during the 2021 session allows 60 online operators and 30 retail sportsbooks to obtain licenses across the state. Sample said the mobile operators will be separate from the one at the local casino, which will have a sort of monopoly on the brick and mortar market on the shore.

According to the language of the bill, while mobile betting is accessible from anywhere, no other business can open a physical sportsbook within a 15-mile radius around the Route 589 gambling spot. That competition-free zone encompasses all of Ocean City, Berlin, Ocean Pines and beyond.

The A-2 license Ocean Downs is seeking carries a $1 million application fee as well as costs for background investigations.

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