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Delaware racinos still plan on offering sports betting

26 August 2009

By Gary Trask

After further review, it appears you will indeed be able to place a bet in the state of Delaware on your favorite NFL team this football season.

Despite Monday's federal appeals court ruling that said the state's plan to offer single-game wagering would violate a federal ban on sports betting, Delaware's three race tracks are proceeding with plans to open their new sportsbooks beginning next week, but it's looking more and more like the only wagers available will be NFL parlay bets.

"It's not ideal, but it's better than having no sports betting at all," Dover Downs Hotel & Casino CEO Ed Sutor told Casino City on Wednesday. "We'd prefer the single-game wagering. That's what we expected to have right up until Monday. Now it looks like we just have to make a go at it with just parlays."

Delaware got the OK for sports betting back in May when the Senate voted 17-2 in favor of a bill backed by Gov. Jack Markell that would allow the state's three racetrack/casinos to offer wagers on sports. The bill would have made Delaware the only state east of the Mississippi River to allow sports wagering of any kind and was expected to help the state's $600 million budget deficit this year by generating more than $50 million.

But on Monday hopes of raking in that kind of profit were dashed when a three-judge panel from a federal appeals court in Philadelphia sided with the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA in blocking single-game wagering activities. The ruling said that "as a matter of law" the proposed sports lottery "violates the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act" (PASPA) from 1992. Lawyers for the state of Delaware argued that its plan was exempt under PASPA, which banned sports gambling in the U.S. except in the four states that already allowed or had previously allowed sports gambling — Delaware, Montana, Oregon and Nevada.

Delaware offered parlay betting on the NFL in 1976 and it was such a failure that it was shut down after just one season. Nevada sportsbooks, meanwhile, can offer single-game betting on all sports and in 2008 they generated almost $2.6 billion in wagers, collecting revenues of $136 million with single-game betting the most popular form of wagering by a wide margin.

"[Monday's ruling] was shocking and very disappointing, to say the least," Sutor said. "And it's frustrating that even today we don't know exactly what we're going to be able to offer." But according to both Sutor and Gov. Markell, some sort of sports wagering will be offered this football season.

"Obviously I am disappointed with the court's decision and will be meeting with the state's attorneys to evaluate our legal options," Markell said in a statement posted on his Web site. "Nevertheless, the state still has the legal authority to offer a sports lottery of parlays involving professional football games, which is a competitive advantage for our three racinos. We look forward to welcoming to Delaware visitors from all over the region to place parlay bets on professional football games."

As soon as the bill was passed the racetrack/casinos immediately went to work on building sportsbooks inside their respective properties. Sutor said that Dover Downs worked around-the-clock during the past three months to have its $5-million venue ready for Sept. 1. It took two adjacent restaurants that were vacated about a year ago and turned one into a 7,500 square-foot sportsbook complete with 16-foot high-definition televisions and a new bar as well as a counter for customers to place bets. A new restaurant called "Frankie's" was built in the other vacant space and will be used as the food and beverage provider for the new sportsbook. More than 70 new jobs were created and employees have already been trained to use the betting machines.

Similar projects have been completed at Delaware's other two racinos. Harrington Raceway and Casino spent nearly as much as Dover Downs for its new sportsbook while Delaware Park invested $1 million.

Sutor said that one way the tracks and the state could make up for the expected loss in income due to the ban on single-game wagering would be if the state expedited a bill on the table that would allow table games at the casinos.

"Table games draw exactly the same kind of demographic that the sportsbooks do and slot machines don't – young males," Sutor said. "In addition, we estimate that the table games would also create 800 jobs for the three venues. This is something that would really benefit everyone involved and if they set up a special session we could have things ready to go by April 1.

"But regardless, we plan on opening our new sportsbook on Sept. 1. We may not be able to take wagers until the following week (the NFL season begins Sept. 10) but the facility will be ready and we hope we can draw in some fans who want to come in and watch the games, place some parlay bets and, of course, bet the horses. We can still make this a profitable venture and that's what we expect to do. All we can do in the meantime is wait for the judge's opinion."

Gary Trask
Gary is an expert on all things gambling. The Boston native has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years, including a few at Casino City and was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's Media Committee.

No Limit Hold'em tournaments are a favorite of Gary's, but he also enjoys a night of dealer's choice with a variety of games like Seven-Card No Peek, Guts or Five-Card Draw with a qualifier. In addition to playing cards, another of Gary's interests is golf, a game that allows his two favorite hobbies to collide quite naturally.

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