Sports wagering a hit with the state’s bettors

The betting board at Dover Downs. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Early numbers exceeded expectations and the best is quite possibly yet to come.

Powered by surprisingly brisk wagering on Major League Baseball games, officials said Delaware’s venture into full-scale sports wagering last month was an early success.

Eventually, baseball is expected to be the third most-wagered sport behind football and basketball, both which include professional and college components and full seasons in the months ahead.

“We didn’t quite anticipate that baseball would be that popular or maybe our bettors are just (extremely anxious) to get involved (in some way),” Delaware Lottery Director Vernon Kirk said Friday.

Bettors wagered more than $7 million at the state’s casinos during the first three weeks, and won a little less than $6 million of it back.

That left about $1 million for the state to share with vendors and casinos. Delaware Park netted $263,924 in commissions during the initial launch, followed by Dover Downs Hotel & Casino earning $57,293 and Harrington Raceway & Casino. keeping $31,039. The state of Delaware took in $437,609 before fees and operating expenses for Lottery and Division of Gaming Enforcement and vendors received $125,000.

There were 50,934 wagers made at Delaware Park, 11,657 at Dover Downs and 7,107 at Harrington.

Mr. Kirk said the early volume of bets was “a little more than expected” and the winning percentage has been “a little bit higher than anticipated” but said the sample size for the latter was still too small to “make any early judgments on.”

Three quarters of all wagered money went toward baseball, with the soccer’s World Cup and the NBA Finals attracting about 8.5 each. The NHL and NFL bets accounted for about 2 percent each, with boxing, golf, MMA and other available sports providing the minuscule rest.

The NBA interest was promising, since only two Finals games between the Warriors and Cavaliers took place after full scale wagering debuted in early June. The Stanley Cup series matching the Capitals and Golden Knights was nearing completion, too, leaving little opportunity to put money down.

While acknowledging that profits won’t be a “game changer” for Dover Downs, CFO Tim Horne said the early response “probably met expectations so far and the interest has remained fairly steady.”

State officials have consulted with casinos in advance of hoped-for increased arrivals during football season, Mr. Kirk said.

The first couple of days were extremely busy at Dover Downs, Mr. Horne said, creating an added buzz to the casino’s atmosphere that will hopefully return when football season kicks off. He said football accounts for approximately 40 percent of wagering in Las Vegas. College basketball’s March Madness tournament could be another big draw, he said.

“The biggest benefit for us is that it’s another benefit for the customer and provides another choice for them during their time here,” Mr. Horne said. “It certainly brings another level of excitement and a different clientele that will hopefully head to the table games while they perhaps stick around for the results to come in.”

State officials have consulted with casinos in advance of hoped-for increased arrivals during football season.

While neighboring states Maryland and Pennsylvania haven’t yet brought single game wagers into their boundaries, New Jersey has to a lesser degree than Delaware so far. Mr. Kirk said he hopes those who already have had a good experience here will want to continue visit the First State.

With nine years worth of experience handling parlay bets, Mr. Kirk said the launch for expanded wagers “was technically flawless. We were quite comfortable thanks to the infrastructure already in place.”

Also, Mr. Kirk said, “We have a staff of consummate professionals who have been through many other launches previous to this. We’re excited,” but taking it in stride, he said.

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