November 12, 2018
By: Will Hobson & Emily Guskin
While Maryland voters likely will have to wait at least two years to decide whether to legalize sports gambling, a narrow majority of the state’s voters approve of adding lawful sports betting today, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll.
The poll found 53 percent of registered voters are in favor of legal professional sports gambling, with 37 percent opposed, and 10 percent of voters having no opinion. Those with strong opinions on the issue were about evenly divided, with 26 percent strongly disapproving of legal sports betting, and 24 percent strongly approving.
Since a Supreme Court ruling in May struck down a federal law barring sports gambling from all but a handful of states, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi and West Virginia have legalized sports betting, and lawmakers in the District and Virginia have expressed interest in considering the issue in 2019.
Voters in Maryland probably will have to wait until at least November 2020.
To legalize sports betting in Maryland, the state General Assembly would need to approve adding a ballot question, and then a majority of voters would need to support the measure. A Maryland bill calling for a voter referendum on sports gambling passed the House of Delegates but not the Senate this year, making it unlikely that the state’s voters will get a referendum on the issue before 2020.
The poll found significant splits on sports betting based on age and gender. Voters under 40 were most supportive, with about 7 in 10 favoring sports betting, and men were more likely than women to favor legal sports gambling, 62 percent to 46 percent.
“You can bet on horse races, and that’s legal, so I just don’t see much of a difference with sports,” said Ben Brittain, 18, of Harford County, in a phone interview.
Randy Gentry, a Baltimore County man who declined to give his age, voiced similar reasoning.
“There’s lotteries, there’s horse racing; might as well bet on sports,” he said.
Seniors were most likely to voice disapproval of sports betting, the poll found. Fewer than 4 in 10 people age 65 and older supported sports gambling, while nearly half were opposed.
“I just don’t like gambling,” said Elizabeth Delo, 78, of Severna Park. “Our parents were a result of the Depression, so we had to struggle to get by, and gambling is wasteful.”
Jenepher Barr, 82, of Baltimore County, said she wasn’t surprised that she and her peers were more strongly opposed to sports betting than younger generations.
“Older folks are wiser, and they’ve seen the results of people who drink too much, gamble too much and smoke too much,” Barr said. “We just have more life experience.”
Lawful sports gambling is the rare bipartisan issue, the poll found. Democrats, Republicans and independents all expressed more support than opposition for legalizing it.
The Post-U-Md. poll was conducted in early October among a random sample of 814 Maryland registered voters reached on cell and landline phones. Overall results have a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.