Delaware Sports Lottery still cashing in

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DOVER — The time-tested gambling adage maintains the house always wins.

In the past seven football seasons, Delaware has triumphed, too.

So no matter if Peyton Manning goes out tonight as a Super Bowl 50 champ or Cam Newton celebrates mightily, the Delaware Sports Lottery again will enrich the First State — and its taxpayers — by several million dollars.

Give or take a few thousand bucks based on tonight’s Broncos-Panthers result in Santa Clara, California, Delaware’s General Fund will receive approximately $5.7 million as its share from wagers placed on National Football League games from the preseason in August to the finale.

Officials said 59 percent of parlays including the championship game this year took Carolina, which closed as a 2½-point favorite as the NFC representative.

The state adds $150,461 to its final take if Denver (552 picks in the Futures challenge to choose a champion

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Delaware Secretary of Finance Tom Cook

throughout the season at varying odds) wins today, $123,815 if Carolina (469 picks) prevails.

The suspense starts at 6:30 p.m. after Lady Gaga performs the national anthem. For those who can’t make it to Levi’s Stadium, CBS will televise the game.

Since its kickoff in 2009, the state run Sports Lottery has profited by approximately $26.7 million through wagers.

Years ago, the state pushed to enact a larger variety of sports betting, but the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals whittled that quest down to packaged three-game minimum bets.

The hope was to create another “tool in the toolbox” for First State casinos to attract customers from competing out-of-state markets, Delaware Lottery director Vernon Kirk said, along with bringing in additional revenue for the state.

Despite the efforts of Secretary of Finance Tom Cook and Gov. Jack Markell’s administration, the initial expansive plans never were realized.

“Still, the casinos and the state made lemonade out of lemons and the Sports Lottery has been a great success story,” Mr. Kirk said last week as the biggest game of them all approached.

A budget boost

A spokesman for Gov. Markell concurred earlier this week.

“The Delaware Sports Lottery has allowed us to tap into significant interest in sports wagering among Delawareans and provide people with a way to participate in a secure way,” Jonathan Dworkin said.

“The Department of Finance has done an excellent job generating interest in the sports lottery, expanding its locations, and maximizing the revenue it generates to support the state’s budget.”

While the football generated funds won’t ease much of the state’s budget stress, Secretary Cook said, “Every bit helps, and allows for the state to pay for teachers, state police and public safety.”

Secretary Cook described the Sports Lottery as a “team effort from the beginning. It has been an entertainment product that has been well received by the by the public.

“We’re the only state east of the Rockies that allows this type of entertainment and that makes it especially interesting.”

Alas, Secretary Cook said, other states are likely to eventually to invest in some form of a sports lottery, and Delaware’s monopoly will end in the name of competition.

With a record 102 retail sites, and sportsbook locations at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, Harrington Raceway & Casino and Delaware Park, the wagering was easier than ever in which to participate.

That was evident in an all-time high of $39.4 million in sales this season, continuing a string of increases every year:

2009-10, $10.9 million

2010-11, $12.9 million

2011-12, $17.9 million

2012-13, $25.4 million (with 31 sports retailers)

2013-14, $31.5 million (69 sports retailers)

2014-15, $37.9 million, (83 sports retailers)

State profit increased with larger customer participation, Mr. Kirk said.

“(Profits) were fairly modest the first few years, primarily because the average bettor likes to wager on the favorites and the favorites were covering the spread at a slightly higher rate than usual,” Mr. Kirk said.

“However, the last several years more underdogs have covered the spread and the state’s contribution has increased.”

Reaching top profits?

Sales increased 28 percent in both 2011 and 12, but rose 30 percent, 19 percent and 17 percent in three years that followed.

With sales increasing 4 “modest” percent this year, Mr. Kirk said, “I think we’re close to finding our ceiling … but it’s still an increase.”

Vernon Kirk, director of the Delaware Lottery.

Vernon Kirk, director of the Delaware Lottery.

Believing that a wide range of parlay options already existed, the state did not add any new features this season. The half-point favorite card remained the most popular choice, so every entry had a clear winner and loser.

“It seems to be evening out and we may have reached a spot where it’s getting flatter,” Mr. Kirk said of Sports Lottery expansion.

Possible additions to mobile and online wagering could arrive if state legislation allows.

“The technology is there if it passes,” said Mr. Kirk, referencing the possibility of Senate Bill 183 that would follow recommendations of the Lottery & Gaming Study Commission adopted on Jan. 22.

Secretary Cook said mobile wagering has the same technology required as iGaming, with a geolocation system in place to confirm the actions are within Delaware’s state boundaries.

The addition will not lessen the desire for in-person wagering, Secretary Cook believes, which is crucial to the additional dollars spent at businesses through food and entertainment that follows while watching the games.

“What I see is they like the feel of the card and to see them and be able to study them,” he said. “While we might offer some other opportunities, I don’t think they will take away from that.”

There’s a large and increasing appetite for sports wagering, according to the American Gaming Association in a news release, citing $4.2 billion to be bet on the Carolina-Denver game today, up 8 percent from the last Super Bowl.

According to the association, nearly 97 percent of the money wagered today will be done illegally.

“As Americans celebrate a milestone Super Bowl, they’ll also bet a record amount on the Big Game,” said Geoff Freeman, American Gaming president and CEO.

“Just like football, sports betting has never been more popular than it is today. The casino gaming industry is leading the conversation around a new approach to sports betting that enhances consumer protections, strengthens the integrity of games and recognizes fans’ desire for greater engagement with sports.”

Many took part

A great range of participants wagered legally in Delaware this season, Mr. Kirk said, confirming a widespread societal interest in the National Football League.

“There’s a genuine appetite for this that goes across a wide variety of players,” Mr. Kirk said.

“It’s not uncommon to see guys and their girlfriends talking to each other about picking cards.”

Once the wager is placed, there’s time to experience the thrill or frustration of what unfolds next.

“People like to spice up their TV watching of the games,” Mr. Kirk said. “It’s fun, it’s entertaining, it’s exciting, and it’s something that they don’t have to invest a lot of money in to take part.”

Secretary Cook said on Sundays, there are lines out the door at casinos an hour before kickoff.

Others have even formed groups that members compete against each other to see who has the most success playing cards throughout the season.

While federal law does not allow single game wagers here, the state hit pay dirt with its NFL futures pick ’em, which bettors can choose a Super Bowl champion at ever changing odds throughout the season.

“People like it because they can hit big on one team, and there’s the optimism of the early season,” Mr. Kirk said.

Carolina began the campaign as a 45 to 1 longshot to grasp the Lombardi Trophy, and Denver was pegged at 12 to 1. Both teams closed at 7/2 during the playoffs, and still can pay off significantly for those who had faith in them.

How’s this for odds? The state would have lost futures money only if the Ravens ($344,000), Cowboys ($115,000) or Chiefs ($70,000) won the Super Bowl this year.

The five most popular team picks this year were the Eagles (857 tickets), Cardinals (741), Steelers (717), Packers (633) and Seahawks (622).

Fans had the least faith in the Browns (41), Bears (42), Buccaneers (48), Titans (66) and Jaguars (68).

State retailers stand to profit a combined $1.22 million this year, with proceeds based on 5 percent of their gross sports sales and a 1 percent cashing bonus for winning tickets up to $600.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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