BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The chair of the state committee granting final approval for sports gambling licenses in Maryland defended the steps the panel has taken as it prepares for the launch of mobile betting, saying the law requires regulators to accommodate the needs of women- and minority-owned businesses.

Thomas Brandt Jr., who chairs the the Sports Wagering and Application Review Commission, said the group has been working on drafts of the applications and regulations for mobile betting and they will voted upon at a special meeting “in the next few weeks.”

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He called the state’s law “particularly complex” because it has provisions encouraging participation from small businesses, women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses.

“I understand that many are frustrated that the process relating to the issuance of Maryland’s mobile sports wagering licenses has been time-consuming,” said Brandt. “I also want everyone to know that SWARC and its support team have been operating as diligently as deliberately as we can under the Maryland sports wagering law that we’re tasked to administer.”

The committee must work with multiple agencies, including the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General, to study the sports wagering market and determine if measures are needed to assist minority and women applicants, he said.

Brandt’s remarks were in direct response to criticism from Gov. Larry Hogan, who on Wednesday blamed delays on “endless bureaucratic roadblocks” and called on SWARC to get mobile betting online by the start of the NFL regular season in September.

“Instead of decisive action to implement the voters’ decision, you have allowed the process to stagnate and become mired in overly bureaucratic procedures that have needlessly delayed the state’s ability to maximize the revenue potential of this emerging industry,” he wrote in a letter to the committee ahead of Thursday’s meeting. “Sports fans in Maryland simply want to be able to place bets on their mobile devices—that’s what they voted for, and they are angry and discouraged over SWARC’s inability to make it happen.”

The governor said the committee should prioritize mobile betting licenses and establish a “firm and transparent timeline” for residents to follow.

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Brandt said, based on where the committee is in the process, he expects applications to be published in the summer and accepted “shortly thereafter.”

Hogan has prodded the committee before. He expressed frustration with the pace of SWARC’s deliberations after the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission forwarded the first casino licenses for approval last October and the committee delayed taking action.

“It appears as if the legislature is pressuring the commission to delay things as long as possible,” the governor said on Nov. 3.

The licenses were approved on Nov. 19, and MGM National Harbor became the first operational sportsbook in the state on Dec. 9.

The gaming commission on Thursday said it would grant access to its online background check system to applicants.

A criminal and financial background investigation is one of two steps for applicants, the other being the application from SWARC.

“The MLGCC’s investigations and the SWARC’s application process may not have the same starting point, but it’s always been the plan for them to unfold on parallel tracks,” said Maryland Lottery and Gaming Director John Martin. “Some investigations could take several months, so now is a great opportunity for all potential applicants to get the ball rolling.”

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SWARC can award up to 30 Class B facility licenses and up to 60 mobile licenses, the gaming commission said.

Paul Gessler