State primed for more NFL wagering

DOVER — The NFL kicks off its 100th season in earnest today, but for some sports fans, that’s not the only milestone.

2019 marks the second NFL season with full-scale sports betting, thanks to a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Delaware, which launched NFL parlay wagering in 2009, was ready to roll after the decision came down, and it opened expanded betting less than three weeks later.

For the state, it’s hard to see the first year of expanded sports betting as anything but a big success, thanks in part to Delaware’s advantage as being one of the few states that could provide betting on NFL games in 2018.

In the fiscal year ended June 30, about 2.6 million bets totaling almost $159 million were placed across all sports, according to the Delaware Lottery. Football — both college and pro — accounted for more than half that sum, bringing in $86.6 million. Profits totaled $25.7 million, with the state taking half of that and the rest being divided between the casinos and retailers.

Interestingly, more bets were placed at retail stores and education than casinos, despite the limited offerings stores have.

Vernon Kirk, director of the Delaware Lottery, said he is unsure whether the state will surpass the 2018 totals given the increased competition: Pennsylvania opened for betting in November, while New York did so in July, and Washington D.C. could offer it sometime this year.

Preseason betting (yes, that’s apparently a thing) saw a decrease at casinos but was trending up at retailers, Mr. Kirk noted.

“If that’s any indication we would anticipate our handle probably being down a little,” he said.

Profits were higher than anticipated last year, although Mr. Kirk noted the timing of the Supreme Court decision was fortuitous.

“If the Eagles had been in the Super Bowl when we had straight betting, I suspect we’d have gotten our lunch handed to us,” he said, referencing Philadelphia’s Super Bowl victory in February 2018.

Of course, that’s a sacrifice many state officials, such as noted Eagles fan Gov. John Carney, would probably have been happy to make.

The state is providing the same options again this year. At Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway and Casino, bettors can place wagers on the over/under, parlays, teasers and futures. There are no prop bets.

For a more detailed explanation of the different types of bets, visit

Retailers will once again have only parlays, which require gamblers to select at least three teams. This type of wager is based off the point spread, not the winner and loser, with payouts ranging from $6.5 for every dollar bet to $100,000 for correctly picking against the spread in 15 games.

There are no plans to expand betting for retailers in the near future, Mr. Kirk said, citing obstacles like security and reporting requirements.

In the futures category, gamblers can bet not just on what team will win the Super Bowl but on win totals for each team and who will win each division.

As of Sept. 1, the best odds for the Super Bowl winner (or the victor of the pro football championship, as the lottery terms it due to copyright issues) belonged to the Kansas City Chiefs. At +550, anyone who puts down $100 on the Chiefs, who came tantalizingly close to making the Super Bowl last year, will win $650 should KC bring home the Lombardi Trophy. In other words, William Hill, the state’s bookmaker, gives the Chiefs about a 15.4 percent chance of claiming their second NFL title.

Sports betting cards at Dover Downs. (Photo by Gary Emeigh)

The Eagles, at +900 (a 10 percent chance to win their second Super Bowl), are behind only the Chiefs, the reigning champion New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints.

The Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals have the slimmest odds (+20000 or .5 percent). If you’re looking for a longshot bet that will pay off big, there are plenty of options. Putting just $1 down on Miami, for instance, will give you a profit of $200 should the Dolphins win the Super Bowl.

Of course, those odds are so slim for a reason, so keep in mind such a bet is very likely to leave you a loser.

Not surprisingly, the Eagles were the most popular futures bet as of Tuesday, with $17,469 on the Birds. Despite the fact 11 teams are considered more likely to win the Super Bowl by William Hill, the Baltimore Ravens are the second most popular pick in Delaware, with gamblers putting $10,100 on second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson’s team. The Ravens are +2000 (4.8 percent chance), indicating some fans are probably betting with their hearts rather than their heads.

No team has a higher projected win total than the Patriots, with William Hill setting the over/under for New England at 11.5 wins. The Dolphins, in contrast, are at 4.5 wins.

John Hensley, the director of race and sports for Dover Downs, said the half-point parlay and teaser offering are the casino’s most popular items. The lottery has provided those since the state launched sports betting in 2009, he said: “The fans that are used to betting the game in Delaware are used to those cards.”

Bettors generally side with favorites, he said, and, not surprisingly, with a mix of local teams like the Ravens and Eagles and more prominent squads like the Patriots and Dallas Cowboys.

Although some states, such as New Jersey, offer online sports betting, such an option won’t be coming to Delaware this year.

Allowing people to place bets through the internet or an app would create many new expenses, such as geolocation, identification verification and technical support, Mr. Kirk said.

“All those costs mean a lower profit margin and there isn’t enough data right now after only 1 year to suggest adding mobile wagers would make up the cost difference,” he wrote in an email. “Add to that the potential for seriously damaging our retailer sports network of parlay card betting, where the hold is so much higher than straight betting, and we are not anxious right now to jump into the mobile market.”

But that doesn’t mean Delawareans will never be able to bet from the comfort of their own homes.

“We’ve considered mobile for several years and we know that’s where the industry is heading,” Mr. Kirk said. “I think we all agree it’s going to be a necessity at some time to stay competitive. We’re just not sure that time is now. Our sports revenue will take a hit this year from regional competition. How much of a hit is the question.”

Dover Downs’ sportsbook was bustling with excitement Thursday morning ahead of the opening kickoff that night. Bettors were carefully studying their options, hoping to find a steal or two.

Among those considering potential bets was Milford resident Elliott Boone. Fresh off filling out some parlay cards, Mr. Boone said he planned to place futures bets Saturday or Sunday, although he was still deciding what teams he would wager on.

While Mr. Boone enjoys the expanded sports betting, he’d like to see Delaware add prop bets, such as who will win league MVP. The state did offer prop bets for the Super Bowl last year but does not plan to have them at any other points.

Also present Thursday morning was Steve Cox, who made the drive from Deale, Maryland, with a friend.

Mr. Cox has been betting on sports for years, and he was excited to take advantage of expanded sports betting last year. He said he did “OK but nothing great” in 2018.

He was planning to put $100 or so on games in the NFL’s opening week.

Asked who he would be picking, Mr. Cox made it clear he likes to root for upsets.

“I usually go by underdogs, ‘cause you can’t win by betting favorites. You lose by betting favorites,” he said.

Of course, that’s a sacrifice many state officials, such as noted Eagles fan Gov. John Carney, would probably have been happy to make.
The state is providing the same options again this year. At Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway and Casino, bettors can place wagers on the over/under, parlays, teasers and futures. There are no prop bets.

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