Delaware Public Media

U.S. Supreme Court ruling could allow Delaware to offer full sports betting quickly

May 14, 2018

Delaware could be among the first states to cash in on Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opens the door for legal sports betting nationwide.


Until today, the First State was one of just four states - and the only one east of the Mississippi - allowed to take bets on sports. That betting is currently limited though to parlay bets, or bets on multiple games tied to each other, on professional football.

Gov. John Carney said in statement Monday that the state is reviewing the opinion from the nation’s highest court to determine Delaware’s options.

“But when the Supreme Court took this case last year, the Delaware Lottery began preparing for the possibility that the Court could overturn the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). In the coming days, the lottery office will consult with the Delaware Attorney General’s Office to more fully understand the details and impact of this decision on Delaware,” Carney said.

But it should be able to expand quickly. In addition to having sports betting infrastructure in place, the legislation allowing sports betting in the First State passed in 2008 allows for any type of sports betting, meaning the state does not need addition approval from the General Assembly to add other sports, single game bets or proposition bets.

Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger said that means the state could launch full sports betting by the end of June.

“With sports gaming it’s important that you know your customer and they have the ‘know your customer’ capability," he said. "We’ve had employees at the casinos who have been in trained in how to offer parlay betting and so you know migrating them to offer full-scale betting is something we can do fairly quickly.”

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said he hopes the state moves quickly to expand sports betting.

“I think if we get out there first and we get out there and get it running, I think we’ll draw some business in from other areas," he said. "Hopefully they’ll stay with us even if those other areas decide they want to do it.”

The Delaware Lottery oversees sports betting in Delaware. It is currently available at sportsbooks located at the state’s three casinos, The Casino at Delaware Park, Dover Downs Hotel and Casino and Harrington Raceway and Casino, as well as just over 100 bars, convenience stores and other retail outlets around the state.

Since 2013, the state has brought in an average of about $5.86 million each year from its share of sports betting. This past season was it best year when it made just under $8.57 million. Its worst year was 2016 when it only brought in just over $2.9 million.

Dover Downs President Ed Sutor said his venue will certainly want to expand the betting options it offers, but is skeptical about how big an impact it will have on his venue.

“It’s nice to have," he said. "[But] in Nevada, where they’ve had it for 50 years, it only represents about 2 percent of their revenues. A lot of people are mistaking the amounts bet as the revenue,” said Sutor. “It’s not a huge take for the industry.”

This past season, the state's three casino's made just over $1.9 million from sports betting. Delaware Park generated the most revenue, bringing in about $1.2 million. Dover Downs made nearly $422,000 and Harrington saw about $282,000 in revenue.

Sutor adds Dover Downs may also stand to lose business since other states will eventually have be able to offer sports betting too.

“We get about 40 percent of our customers to the sportsbook from out of state and now they’re going to have the ability [to bet] in their own states,” said Sutor.

The state first started taking bets on 2009. Delaware had hoped to offer full sports betting at the time, but a federal appeals court ruling limited the state to parlay bets on pro football. That was what a failed sports betting venture offered here in the late 1970’s and is the limited exemption the court ruled Delaware had from the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that barred sports gambling. The only other states with exemptions were Nevada, Oregon and Montana.

The First State initially limited sports betting to its three casinos, but it started allowing other venues, such as bars and convenience stores, to offer parlay betting in 2012. Initially, 38 outlets were allowed. That number nearly doubled to 69 in 2013. It now stands at 107, according to the Delaware Lottery's website.

The ruling comes as state lawmakers consider a bill offering relief to the state's casinos.

The bill slightly reduces the state’s share of slot revenues. It also slashes the state’s take of table game earnings by about 14 percent and suspends the table gaming license fee.

Geisenberger said the legislation will cost the state $15 million in the next fiscal year and $20 million in subsequent years.

The legislation has already passed the state Senate, but faces an uncertain fate in the House where Schwartzkopf opposes it.

Schwartzkopf said he’s opposes to the level of cuts in the legislation for casinos when other areas of the budget need more funding and has suggested expanded sports betting could bring Delaware casinos more revenue without a hit to the state.

But Sutor said additional sports betting is no "silver bullet" for First State casinos battling for regional customers.

"It doesn't move the needle as far as what we need to be competitive with other jurisdictions," said Sutor. "[The legislation] could be millions of dollars per year to help the casinos make capital investments and other things. Sports betting is a tiny, tiny fraction of that."

"We're still happy to get it," said Sutor. "But it's not a huge windfall for the casino."