AFRO Exclusive: Gambling license distribution ‘has to be fair’

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A 2017 study on disparity still holds true today. Now that voters approved the expansion of sports betting, there is much concern that minority-owned businesses will not receive gambling licenses. (Photo courtesy)

By Stephen Janis
Special to the AFRO

With voters approving the ballot initiative, legalizing sports betting in Maryland earlier this month, business owners are raising concerns over how the licenses to offer legal wagering will be awarded. 

Former State Delegate and City Council President-elect Elect Nick Mosby urges state leaders in Annapolis to ensure that Black and minority-owned firms aren’t left out. “This decision will award generational wealth to the recipients,” Mosby told the AFRO.  “We have to take into account how in the past Black businesses have been left out.” 

When the State Senate approved the ballot measure to amend the state constitution, allowing for sports gambling in January, it voted unanimously to award the licenses to existing gambling establishments, racetracks and stadiums. Minority contractors were completely bypassed.

But then Delegate Mosby worked to have that language removed from a companion bill in the house to ensure that racial disparities could be considered once voters approved the measure.  

That process will begin during the next legislative session in Annapolis beginning in January, when established casinos like the Horseshoe in Baltimore are expected to be lobbying hard for the lucrative deals.

“The process has to be fair, and we have to account for mistakes of the past,” Mosby said. 

And Mosby is not alone.

Last month an economist who analyzed racial disparities affecting Maryland minority business owners wrote a letter to the state arguing that any process to award the new gambling licenses must take his findings into account. 

In a letter obtained by the AFRO, Economist Jon Wainwright argued that the findings of the study conducted in 2017 are still relevant as the legislature debates how to award the deals. 

“The 2017 Disparity Study very likely does provide a strong basis in evidence for the application of the Maryland Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Program to the types of work involved” Wainwright wrote to the State’s deputy secretary of transportation, Mr. R. Earl Lewis Jr.

The comprehensive analysis found challenges for minority business owners in obtaining financing and winning state contracts. The study was conducted after the state awarded lucrative licenses for growing medical marijuana.  

Wainwright, along with several legislators, urged the state to incorporate the findings during the process of awarding licenses to grow medical marijuana.  

Ultimately, the state awarded the most lucrative licenses to majority White owned firms. Only after intense pushback from the Black Legislative Caucus did the state reverse course and award licenses to several minority-owned firms.  

“The disparity study acknowledges the structural disadvantages and historical inactions of the State of Maryland to create level and competitive business opportunities for minorities,” Mosby said.