“Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” This past legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly made history in passing what House Speaker Adrienne Jones referred to as “The Black Agenda.”
With the passage of robust police reform, legislation requiring companies to diversify their corporate boards and approving historic funding for Maryland’s four HBCUs, Maryland made progress in righting historical wrongs that had for too long gone unresolved.
Another piece of legislation, House Bill 940, that legalizes sports wagering, was just signed into law by the governor, seeks to make history yet again. Because of the hard work of so many, Maryland became the first state to prioritize the awarding of sports wagering licenses to applicants that have significant Black or women ownership.
While the legislature went to extraordinary measures to ensure the exact language did not overstep any state or federal constitutional standards, the intent was apparent: Maryland cannot repeat past mistakes of recent procurements, most notably medical cannabis, and leave Black and women applicants out of a new and lucrative industry.
In that case, not a single cannabis cultivation or processing license was awarded to a majority Black-owned applicant in the first round. The jarring discrepancy was ultimately corrected in the second round of legislation highly supported by the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus.
Prioritizing applicants that have significant Black and woman ownership is critical for several reasons.
The first is the unique timing. Sports wagering has only been legal in most of the U.S. since 2018. Since Maryland is legalizing a brand-new industry for the first time, no company, organization or group can credibly make the case that this requirement will unfairly burden them. Furthermore, sports wagering is a business where being an “early entrant” in the marketplace is critically important and highly lucrative.
Understanding this phenomenon, the legislature included a provision in HB940 that would allow sports wagering applicants with significant Black or woman ownership to be granted early access to the Maryland marketplace ahead of applicants that do not have any Black or woman ownership.
In conclusion, we are living in a crucial moment in our nation’s history.
Citizens, elected officials, businesses and the community-at-large are beginning to finally take steps to address the systemic failures of providing equity, opportunity and inclusion in our nation. This is an important step, but the remedies that attempt to right the wrongs of the past must also include forward-looking policies aimed at building intergenerational wealth by guaranteeing access to new and lucrative industries.
The General Assembly has made it abundantly clear: it supports equity. By providing an opportunity to sports wagering applicants with significant Black and women ownership, it has done just that.
–DEL. DARRYL BARNES
The writer, a Democrat, is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing Prince George’s County’s Legislative District 25. He is also chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.