Redskins’ gambling idea open a can of worms


Washington Redskins FedEx Field Image: Washington Redskins

The professional American football team Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder recently coaxed Maryland legislative leaders (privately) to green light gambling at a future stadium in the State, a sports betting proposal that places him at the vanguard among National Football League (NFL) owners.

Washington Redskins is based in Washington metropolitan area and compete in the NFL.

Snyder, who requested at least three separate meetings at Annapolis in Maryland, US, told lawmakers that a gambling license was key to his plans to build a new facility on the site of FedEx Field – the residence of Washington Redskins – and relocate the team’s training facility from Richmond to Landover.

Six legislators confirmed Snyder’s visit to Annapolis. This hints that Maryland is still in the line for the stadium, a possibility that seemed bleak after land-swap parleys with the Governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan’s administration, ended in a deadlock last year.

The team has sought a new facility in the District at the site of its old home, RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., which will be torn down by 2021. However, the city has not been able to gain control of the property from the Federal Government. The team has also explored possibilities in Virginia. The team’s lease contains that FedEx Field will serve as its home through 2027.

In a meeting with Prince George’s County legislators who represent Landover, Snyder made a strong pitch for redeveloping the area as a year-round, mixed-use destination that could include hotels and offices.

Two lawmakers said the Washington Redskins owner told them that he would pick up the tab of constructing the venue and associated buildings without involving taxpayers’ money — apart from acquiring the gambling license.

“It was a businessman making a commitment to Maryland . . . who was willing to put his own money into it,” said Del. Erek L. Barron (D), Chairman of Prince George’s (a county located in the US State of Maryland) delegation.

“In Prince George’s we need to be doing everything we can do to promote jobs and economic development. I think any businessman singing that music, we should be listening to him.”

Senator Guy J Guzzone (D-Howard), Chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said Snyder was the first professional sports team owner in Maryland to ask for an audience with lawmakers as regards obtaining a gambling license. Senator Guzzone attended Snyder’s meeting with Senate leaders.

Snyder did not meet with Governor Hogan but Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci informed that the team owner had showed interest in obtaining a gambling license in previous meetings with the Governor, dating back to Fall 2017.

“Governor Hogan has ‘no position’ on Snyder’s proposal. We’re in listening mode,” Ricci stated.

Sean DeBarbieri, a team spokesman, refused to comment on Snyder’s proposal.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering expanding its casino gambling industry to include sports betting, an initiative to help raise money for public education.

Any expansion now would require a constitutional referendum, and a measure could be placed on the November ballot. Lawmakers mooted that the State’s Constitution should be changed to enable the General Assembly to expand gambling in the future without having to ask voters to decide.

Till now, talks have revolved around on whether horse racetracks would join casinos as potential recipients of a limited number of sports betting licenses, as well as whether patrons could place bets via phones. Lawmakers are also broaching the topic of whether to allow gambling on video games and other esports.

The possibility of a gambling establishment at a future arena could almost open a can of worms – whether Maryland’s other sports venues should also get gambling licenses.

Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino, for example, is just stone’s throw away from both M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards, the respective home grounds of football team Baltimore Ravens and baseball team Baltimore Orioles, respectively. The idea is not likely to go down well with Horseshoe Casino as it will not want competition in the form of those sites vis-a-vis sports betting business.

While other professional leagues have signed deals with bookmakers and aggressively embraced sports betting — the National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner, Adam Silver, publicly began advocating for it in 2014 while the NFL has not done so.

Patrick M Gleason, Director of Public Relations for the Ravens, said the team has “nothing to share publicly on this matter right now.” An Orioles representative declined to comment.

Several professional sports facilities in the District have already got the go-ahead for possible sports betting operations, including Nationals Park, Audi Field, the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast Washington and Capital One Arena. Two of these facilities have reportedly held dialogue with established gambling brands, but in the early part of this month, only one application had been filed — for a betting complex at Capital One Arena (indoor arena in Washington, D.C.) with the British bookmaker William Hill.

One Maryland lawmaker, requesting anonymity, raised eyebrows over Snyder’s proposal, especially since the NFL has been slow to embrace sports gambling – “It was the first time it crossed my mind that the stadiums would have any interest. I was surprised to think, given the history of professional sports and gambling, they would do it within the same venue.”

A delegate said Snyder “does see that as part of his vision if he is to remain in Maryland.”

The lawmaker further stated, “He is willing to build his own stadium, but he wants sports betting to be a part of that.” He described Snyder’s pitch as a “veiled threat” to go to Virginia if he does not get a license.

“It wasn’t too high-pressured,” the lawmaker said of the discussion. “Most of the people in the room were Ravens fans, so it sort of fell on deaf ears.”

Another attendee summed up the team owner’s message as: “If you don’t give it, I’m leaving. If you give it, maybe I’ll stay.”

Senate President Emeritus Thomas V Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who in his capacity as Senate President brokered the deals that brought gambling and casinos to Maryland, remarked, “Extending sports betting beyond casinos and racetracks would be a very difficult sell. It’s like printing money — everybody wants a piece of the action.” Miller did not attend the meeting with Snyder.

Del. Jazz M Lewis (D-Prince George’s), who represents Landover, said he was pleased to hear Snyder’s “commitment to the FedEx Field location, if he decides to stay in Maryland”.

Snyder’s proposal arose the curiosity of several lawmakers.

“If he wants to build it with his own money, then great — whatever it takes to succeed,” said Del. Carl L Anderton Jr. (R-Wicomico), who was not in the meeting. He was among several lawmakers who reacted strongly to the possibility that Snyder would threaten to leave the State unless he is awarded a gambling license.

“We certainly should not be held hostage by an owner. We’ll call his bluff. Go,” he further stated.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is holding discussions about the expansion of gambling, Senator Guzzone said, and “we’re taking everybody’s opinion very seriously.”

“We’re in discussions with everybody who is interested, and I look at [the football team] like everyone else,” Guzzone said. “We have to make sense of what is best for the State.”

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