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Delaware wants slice of sports betting pie

Dec 16, 2008 5:07 PM
Staff & Wire Reports |

Nevada may lose its long-held monopoly on the commercial sports betting industry if Delaware proceeds with plans to legalize sports betting.

With the possible backing of a new governor and new General Assembly set to convene next month, legalized sports wagering has suddenly become a priority for Delaware’s gambling industry.

"We are actively working on sports betting … We do think that has a good chance," said state lottery director Wayne Lemons, who added that, with legislative approval a sports lottery could be up and running by next summer.

Ed Sutor, president and chief executive officer of Dover Downs, said sports betting would draw a new demographic to Delaware casinos – young men – and likely would result in spin-off business from food and drink, as well as increased attendance at boxing events.

By virtue of a failed experiment with a sports lottery in the late 1970s, Delaware is one of only four states, along with Nevada, Montana and Oregon, that received grandfathered exemptions from a 1992 federal law banning sports gambling.

The state’s Video Lottery Advisory Council, an industry trade group, is meeting this week to discuss various proposals with sports betting at the top of their list.

Other changes the council would like to see include allowing casinos to open on Christmas day and Easter, and allowing serving of alcoholic beverages 24 hours a day.

The council will submit its recommendations to the state finance department in January.

While outgoing Governor Ruth Ann Minner has opposed efforts to expand gambling beyond the state’s three slot machine casinos, governor-elect Jack Markell has been receptive to the notion of sports betting and table games.

In fact, Markell has stated making sports betting legal was a top priority for his administration. He believes that he has a plan, slightly different than Nevada-style betting, that could make a lot of money for his state.

The basis of Markell’s plan is the parlay bet, something well-known to sports bettors in Las Vegas. These are bets that require picking two or more outcomes, whether they are the winner or loser of a game, the over/under total, etc.

Parlay bets are favored by casual players or bettors with limited bankrolls because they pay odds on picking the outcome. For instance, a two-team parlay usually pays 13-5, while a three-team parlay pays 6-1.

Of course, Las Vegas sports books also like parlay action because they maintain a higher hold percentage or "juice" on the bets (a three-team parlay "should" pay 7-1: the difference is the house edge), and the bet requires all the teams to win.

The difference between Delaware sports betting, if approved, and Nevada-style betting is that no gambler will be allowed to place a straight bet in Delaware.

A study commissioned by the Video Lottery Advisory Council last year estimated that Delaware could collect about $70 million annually from sports betting, although a government commissioned report pegged the revenues closer to $26 million.

For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2008, Nevada’s sports books raked in $166.3 million from bettors. The total represented only 1.3 percent of total casino revenues of $12.5 billion.