Place your bets: Wagering picks up as NFL season kicks off

DOVER — John Thorner was way ready for some football.

But he held no illusions as another NFL season neared.

A regular visitor to Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, Mr. Thorner was resigned to the inevitable ups and downs of sports wagers.

“It’s called ‘gambling’ so nothing is guaranteed,” the Dover resident reasoned early Thursday afternoon from the sports book room.

“If it was guaranteed then we’d all be rich.”

Delaware Lottery cards include the advice to “Play responsibly” in bold, capital letters and include the Delaware Gambling Helpline number at 1-888-850-8888 for anyone with a problem or who knows of someone with one.

The risk was acceptable for Thursday’s steady stream of bettors with small wooden pencils in hand studying cards intently to make a final call, just steps from four tellers waiting to take their wagers.

The racially diverse group of mostly men of all ages 21 and older, wearing a range of suits, shorts, T-shirts, flip flops, work boots, dress and tennis shoes and ballcaps stood patiently in line together.

Already, though, Mr. Thorner was ahead of the game. Instead of spending money on a plane ticket to Las Vegas and lodging there, which he’d done in the past, he’d driven to the casino on less than a gallon of gas with a free stay at home afterward.

Not Las Vegas, but …

“This isn’t Las Vegas but there’s still a lot here that’s available,” he said, adding that he’s been patronizing the casino five times a week since early June when full sports wagering arrived.

“You’re always looking for an advantage and now there are a lot of possibilities.”

The choices were indeed vast, including the opportunity to pick a winner at this week’s PGA event (Tiger was available at 20 to 1 odds) to UEFA soccer matches and WNBA playoff results for halftime and final scores.

Also available were future champion bets in the NBA (Warriors heavily favored at 1 to 2), NCAA (Duke at 9/2 in basketball, Alabama at 7/4 in football), NHL (Lightning at 13/2), NFL (Eagles at 9/2), Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (Kevin Harvick at 2/1) and CFL (Stampeders at 11/5).

“Baseball gets a good amount of interest, but the real money is with football,” Mr. Thorner said. “You will see this place flooded every week once the regular season starts.”

Several hours before the Week One kickoff, and perhaps indicating some nervousness about Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles preseason’s duds, the Eagles had dropped from an original slight favorite to a pick ’em with the Falcons on opening night.

Said one would-be bettor loudly and enthusiastically when bumping into a friend, “I don’t care about the Eagles, but I love the action, I love the action, man. If I’m going to watch the game I gotta have something riding on it.”

Sitting nearby at a table with a friend was Jim Liguori, who pledged to “support the state betting since I lost my bookie’s number.”

Mr. Liguori said he typically visited the casino perhaps once a week, usually on Thursdays. His general betting plan on who to pick was to “ask my wife and then do the opposite.”

On a serious note, though, Mr. Liguori said he was happy to see the First State’s wagering growth.

“I hope it blossoms,” he said.

NFL’s full slate

The casino’s sports book opens at 9 a.m. today as a full slate of pro football games starts four hours later. Dover Downs officials advised arriving early, based on an anticipated increased interest from last year.

While the casino plans to have five or six windows open, officials will move more staff in to take bets if needed.

Last year it wasn’t unusual to have up to 50 customers waiting in line an hour before the early kickoffs, and more foot traffic is expected in the age of enhanced local gambling opportunities.

“If you can leave your family for a short time on Sunday morning and get here by 10, you should be in and out no problem and home before you know it to watch the games,” Dover Downs Senior Director for Horse Racing and Sports John Hensley said.

“Of course we’d like you to stay with us and be able to enjoy all the special things going on here, but we’re urging everyone to get here early if at all possible.”

On Thursday, Mr. Hensley was encouraged by a line of 10 patrons waiting for the window on a lightly scheduled day. He expected the business to trend upward until today.

“This is the day,” he said. “You can hear a buzz in the room and we expect it to remain steady the next couple of days before it really picks up on Sunday.”

The casino handled the challenge of 32 college football games last Saturday with no major issues, when lines peaked at 20 bettors waiting to put money down, Mr. Hensley said.

According to Delaware Lottery Director Vernon Kirk, the casinos have done well in training staff to assist customers in the early stages of the full sports lottery.

“Bettors generally like to return to places and casinos where they’ve had luck,” he said. “A good customer experience will go a long way in increasing the chances of them returning and the casinos in our state have placed an emphasis in making that happen.

“The staff was trained in terminology and the type of wagers and that has translated into satisfaction among those who have taken part (in wagering).”

According to Mr. Kirk, “We’re still learning and this weekend will be a big test on crowd control and what we can expect going forward. We feel like we’re done everything possible to prepare but we won’t know until it happens.”

Delaware’s recent expansion of sports wagering, including at Harrington Raceway and Delaware Park, added single-game bet options, which Mr. Thorner said was the best addition of them all.

“The three-game minimum parlays were tough to win because it just one mistake to wipe out (a couple good calls),” he said.

Mr. Kirk said that parlay wagers were down “only” 10 percent from the same time in 2017, and he said the addition of college football options to the picks had helped.

Delaware has been able to hold onto 11 percent of money wagered, including parlay bets.

The Las Vegas hold is typically 5 to 6 percent, Mr. Kirk said, not factoring in parlays.

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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