Wanna bet? Expanded sports gambling starts in Delaware

The sports betting board at Dover Downs on Tuesday. Delaware Sate News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Expanded sports gambling at Delaware’s three casinos was unveiled on Tuesday afternoon and drew rabid levels of excitement from government officials, avid sports fans and gamblers.

It was like Mardi Gras without the colorful beads at Dover Downs, Harrington Raceway and Delaware Park as they became the first venues across the country to offer single-game sports wagering outside Nevada — as those beads were replaced with huge electronic multi-colored gambling boards.

While the kickoff party was loud and boisterous, most in the casino industry are taking a more restrained wait-and-see approach.
Gov. John Carney made the official first bet at Dover Downs when he placed $10 on his beloved Philadelphia Phillies to defeat the Chicago Cubs in a game Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Gov. John Carney places the first full slate sports betting on the Philadelphia Phillies to beat the Chicago Cubs at the Dover Downs Sports in Dover on Tuesday. Delaware Sate News/Marc Clery

“This is really about bringing visitors to our state and giving them things to do,” said Gov. Carney. “Tourism is a big thing in our state, particularly as we move into the summer season in the beach area we have hundreds of thousands of visitors who come from all over the region.

“(Tuesday) we’re going to be the first in offering them an entertainment opportunity, so they can support the sports teams by making a legal wager.”

It has been a whirlwind for the Delaware Department of Finance and officials with the Delaware Lottery since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on May 14 to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

That decision set into motion for Delaware and other states to be able to offer single-game and championship wagering on professional baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, golf and auto racing.

Staff at all three of Delaware’s casinos have been training rigorously since learning of the expanded sports gambling just more than a couple of weeks ago.

Gov. John Carney holds the first full slate sports betting ticket on the Philadelphia Phillies to beat the Chicago Cubs at the Dover Downs Sports in Dover on Tuesday.

They officially sprung into action on Tuesday.

“Being the first (state) outside of Nevada did not happen at all by accident,” said Delaware Department of Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger. “For the past six months we have been assembling training materials, updating and testing our software.

“So, when the Court did take action a few weeks ago we moved very quickly to put our plan into place, training scores of casino employees, lottery office staff, Division of Gaming enforcement staff and on and on. It’s a great example of how Delaware moves quickly and nimbly as a state in all manner of things.”

The enormous gambling board was lit in hues of red, green and gold inside of the Dover Downs sports book.

All sorts of wagers were offered, from next year’s Super Bowl winner to this year’s World Series champion and every single game in between.

The struggling Baltimore Orioles faced 999-to-1 odds to win this year’s World Series while the Phillies’ odds to win the world title were 12-to-1.

Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, displayed a tempered enthusiasm for the increased sports betting that Dover is now able to offer.

Stu Fineman yells out after he wagered during the first full slate sports betting press conference at the Dover Downs Sports in Dover on Tuesday.

“We’re happy for the sports fans,” Mr. McGlynn said. “We think they’re the big winners in this enterprise, not so much for us, but we’re happy to be able to offer it to potential customers and current customers, so it’s all good in that regard.

“I think at least until the surrounding states get up and running that we’re going to have a good thing here for the fans and we’ll do our best to try to make it good for everybody, but we have a lot of issues as you probably already know.”

In mid-May, Mr. McGlynn said he doesn’t seem to think that full-scale sports betting at the state’s casinos will be nearly the boon that many expect it to be.

Gov. John Carney speaks during the first full slate sports betting press conference at the Dover Downs Sports in Dover on Tuesday.

“People need to understand that in Las Vegas, where sports betting has been going on seemingly forever, that only 2 percent of their gambling revenues come from sports betting. So, it’s really not a big piece of their business.”

Mr. McGlynn added that all the other states will now be able to offer the same types of sports wagering that the casinos in Delaware can, so now people will now be able to stay home to place their bets.

Plus, straight sports betting, where a gambler can pick the winner of a single sports contest, is not nearly as lucrative as parlay wagering, which the state has offered on NFL games since 2009.

Mr. McGlynn said that Dover Downs currently has a 28 to 34 percent average hold on parlay bets.

However, an average hold on a straight bet is four-and-a-half, so it’s not nearly as lucrative of a business proposition.

Mr. McGlynn said that Dover Downs would have to do 8 to 10 times as much business (in sports betting) to stay where it’s at today.

“Everybody can do the research on their own,” said Mr. McGlynn. “Is it a nice thing to have? I suppose for the state it could be considered that. But really, at the end of the day, it’s not going to be a big deal for anybody.”

It appeared to be a big deal on opening day at Dover Downs, as casino workers took in 36 bets within the first 20 minutes of legal wagering on Tuesday.

President and CEO of Dover Downs Denis McGlynn speaks during the first full slate sports betting press conference at the Dover Downs Sports in Dover on Tuesday.

Dover resident Jameel Osborn was on hand dressed in his Philadelphia 76ers basketball jersey.

“I’m looking forward to betting on football – the Eagles all day,” he said. “I think single-game wagering is going to increase sports betting in Delaware a lot. I’m glad we have it.”

Mr. Osborne also pointed out that the expanded sports gambling at Dover Downs, Harrington and Delaware Park should draw in more visitors, which will likely translate into additional sales of food and beverages.

David Tull, of Voorhees, New Jersey, also had a betting card in his hand and was going over potential picks at Dover Downs on Tuesday.

“I think it’s great. It’s about time,” Mr. Tull said. “It’s something we all do and now to have it in a legal environment makes it a lot easier for everyone.

“It’s a lot easier than going out to Vegas. It’s a lot more local. New Jersey’s going to get it soon, but I wanted to make sure that I was here for opening day in Delaware as well.”

Sports retailers, such as convenience stores, will continue to sell NFL parlays — and will be allowed to sell college football parlays or a combination of NFL and college parlays, according to Leslie A. Poland, community relations coordinator for the Delaware Department of Finance.

While Delaware became the first state outside of Nevada to offer expanded sports gambling on Tuesday, New Jersey and other states that are lining up are not far behind. Sports gambling has been estimated to be a $150 billion industry.

That is why many have tempered enthusiasm to the sports gambling industry.

Ed Sutor, president and CEO of Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, is expecting plenty of interest in auto racing bets, especially when NASCAR comes to Dover International Speedway twice each year.

He also believes that soccer’s upcoming Word Cup could bring a lot of interest this month with the millennial crowd, as part of the tournament coincides with the Firefly Music Festival that begins Thursday, June 14.

Stock prices were up 91 percent at Dover Downs on Monday.

“I don’t think we had anything else going on,” Mr. Sutor said, when asked if it had anything to do with expanded sports wagering. “We’re just happy to be the first casino in the first state and now we’re really happy to be able to expand our sports gaming operations.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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