Delaware Sports Lottery wins big on NFL: Customer base continues to grow every year

DOVER — It’s gotta happen eventually, right?

If the Eagles win their first Super Bowl, their long suffering fans will rejoice.

One true believer will have the added thrill of pocketing $28,000.

On the first day of the Delaware Sports Lottery on Aug. 4, a bettor put $1,000 down on Philly going all the way this season.

The 28-to-1 odds will pay off handsomely if Carson Wentz, Darren Sproles and the Birds are clutching the Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018.

The NFL regular season kicks off Thursday, and the bettor has already succeeded — the Eagles have dropped to 20-to-1 longshots and a winning bet would only garner $20,000 now.

The sports lottery room at Dover Downs. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Such are the fluctuating perceptions about professional football teams. The state employs a risk management company to establish odds more likely to benefit the house.

For instance, a bettor was denied putting $2,000 on the Titans at 40-to-1 Super Bowl winner odds, because a risk manager deemed it a bad probability for the state. A $1,000 wager was allowed, with the other grand placed on lower odds and a smaller payoff if successful.

Picking a future Super Bowl winner at ever-changing odds is one of many options to bet on NFL action through the State of Delaware’s popular and profitable venture.

Offering Tom Brady and the defending champ Patriots at 3-to-1 odds could work out for the State of Delaware, but giving them a 30-to-1 chance would be a potential money-losing disaster.

Sports lottery cards at Dover Downs.

Nobody would bet the likely bottom dwelling Jets at 4-to-1 to win it all, so there’s a science to determining what risk and reward will attract the most betting action.

The standard wagers include parlays where at least three games are involved. Single game bets are not allowed in Delaware due to federal law and the state never officially refers to the pro football championship as the Super Bowl.

Entering its regular season kickoff, Sports Lottery numbers have continued to rise annually while reaching a widespread and diverse audience. There are 108 spots to wager parlays in Delaware, including casinos, convenience stores, restaurants, liquor stores, news stands, bowling alleys, cigarette outlets and bars.
“Last year was a record year and we’ve started off even better so far this season,” Delaware Lottery Director Vernon Kirk said.

“There just seems to be a very big appetite for it. Every year more people become aware of it, try it and like it. The customer base continues to grow.”

Sports lottery room at Dover Downs.

The 2009 debut attracted $10.8 million in sales, and they’ve risen every year since. The 2016 season brought $46.1 million in sales.

Profits vary based on bettor’s success, but the Sports Lottery has never earned less than $3.5 million and averaged $7.55 annually the first eight years The $13.9 million hold in 2014 was a record.

“The NFL itself is a very strong brand and other sports are very successful, but there’s just something about the NFL that attracts such a variety of viewers and followers,” Mr. Kirk said.”

Strong preseason start

As players placed their faith in highly unpredictable preseason games this year, the state kept roughly 70 percent that was bet. Sales were up $14.4 percent from the first three weeks of 2016.

The state’s profits will drop when real games arrive and customers can better analyze the Bears, Redskins, Ravens, Rams, Chiefs and the rest. There’s a far better chance to judge a team correctly when it stabilizes with its final roster and the scores matter.

“That changes dramatically once the regular season begins,” Mr. Kirk said of preseason profits by the state.

Based on the favorable dollar amounts, the state has reached a “high water mark” according to officials.

“We found a pretty good formula and we’re sticking with it for the most part,” Mr. Kirk said. “We have a good product mix and a nice sweet spot on the market coverage both in trade styles and geographically.”

Operations are quite economical, since the state uses just one staff member to handle marketing and distribution of materials to retailers.

When efforts to bring single game bets to Delaware failed, establishments accepted the lottery as a feature for customers to enjoy.

“Dover Downs Hotel & Casino was expecting to be able to take bets on all sports much like Las Vegas. However, a Federal Court decision limits Delaware to parlay bets (at least three picks) on NFL games only,” CEO Ed Sutor said.

“Although Dover Downs Hotel & Casino is appreciative to be able to offer this limited betting product to our patrons, it has not had a material impact on our overall business.”

While several companies have approached the state promoting auto race, horse race, baseball, boxing, basketball, boxing and soccer products, Mr. Kirk said “Our plate is pretty full but we are always listening. In the non-football time of the year could be opportunities.”

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