Delaware to appeal sports betting restrictions

Jan 15, 2010 7:15 PM

Gov. Jack Markell said Thursday that Delaware will appeal restrictions on its sports betting lottery to the U.S. Supreme Court.


While the court accepts only a tiny fraction of the appeals it receives, officials hope it will consider their plea to reverse a ruling by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia.

"We think we have some pretty good arguments," said Tom McGonigle, an attorney who is Markell’s chief of staff.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stunned Delaware officials in August when it ruled the state’s lottery must be restricted to multi-game, or parlay, wagers on professional football. That is similar to the betting scheme used in a failed 1976 National Football League lottery that allowed Delaware to be one of four states granted grandfathered exemptions from a 1992 federal ban on sports betting.

The appeals court ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the professional sports leagues and the NCAA, which claimed Delaware’s plan to offer single-game wagers on a variety of sports violated the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

Ken Nachbar, an attorney who represented the sports leagues in the lawsuit, had no comment on the state’s appeal.

Delaware’s three slot-machine casinos, which were granted exclusive authority by the state to operate sports books, have agreed to pay up to $50,000 in legal fees for filing of the petition.

"We think it’s a worthwhile investment on our part. ... There’s too much upside to just walk away from it," said Ed Sutor, president and CEO of Dover Downs Inc.

Markell had pushed for sports betting as a way to help resolve an unprecedented shortfall in state tax revenues and balance Delaware’s budget. Sutor, the casino executive, said lifting the NFL-only restriction and allowing year-round betting on all sports would benefit both the casinos and the state, which gets a share of gambling revenue.

"We would like to deliver what we thought we could when we got the sports betting legislation. ... Right now we only have a 17-week season," he said.