Delaware, not New Jersey, the first to launch full-on sports betting menu

Jun 5, 2018 |

Three weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey in that state’s case to legalize sports betting, deeming the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 unconstitutional. Today, for the first time, a state other than Nevada will begin offering a full-on sports betting menu.

But after all those years of legal wrangling, it won’t be New Jersey. Rather, Delaware will be the first to market in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

That was made possible by a savvy move a decade ago, when Delaware was denied by the courts the opportunity to provide single-game sports betting. In response, the state created an NFL parlay lottery game that passed legal muster and has operated ever since.

So the infrastructure has been in place for years, and it begins paying off when Gov. John Carney makes the ceremonial first bet today at 1:30 p.m. ET, in the sportsbook at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino. Carney will be joined by William Hill US CEO Joe Asher, along with state and casino officials, for the opening wager.

“It’s the same space they’ve been using for nine years,” Delaware Lottery Director Vernon Kirk told Covers, alluding to sportsbook spaces at Dover Downs, Delaware Park and Harrington Raceway and Casino. “In 2009, all three built sportsbooks, kept them open and made lemonade out of lemons.”

They did so via the NFL parlay lottery game. Now, Delaware will add single-game and futures wagering on the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NHL, soccer, golf and motorsports – and will do so before New Jersey, though the Garden State could be up and running at Monmouth Park by the end of this week.

“We are very excited. Being first was never a concern of ours, only that we were well prepared to offer this product before we moved forward,” said Rick Geisenberger, who heads up the state’s Department of Finance. “As far back as 2009, we have had the infrastructure, the legislative authority and the regulations in place, and we are confident of our success.”

For the moment, anyone wishing to get a wager down will have to do so in person, but Geisenberger believes that will change in due time.

“Initially all full-scale betting will be in casino, but we would expect to roll out online gaming in collaboration with the casinos as things progress,” Geisenberger said, pointing to the prospect of a mobile app and/or Internet-based betting operated by the brick-and-mortar outlets.

Las Vegas-based William Hill US, risk manager for the Delaware Lottery’s NFL parlay product, might play a role in such developments, though company officials have not yet spoken about it. Asher only addressed today’s launch.

“Delaware was our nation’s first state, so it’s only fitting that it will take the first bet of the post-PASPA era,” Asher said in a Friday news release. “It’s also where I was born and grew up, and I am honored to join Gov. Carney on Tuesday at Dover Downs – where I worked as a teenager – to mark this historic occasion and welcome in a new, exciting era in sports betting.”

Geisenberger said while the state is eager to get started, it’s also being realistic about just what this means.

“We hope to achieve an enhanced revenue stream for Delaware, but our enthusiasm is tempered with reason,” he said. “Full-scale sports betting is not a silver bullet, but rather another tool in the toolbox.”

Indeed, as Kirk rightly pointed out, the state lottery’s NFL parlay game produced hold as high as 30 percent. Single-game sports wagering in Nevada averages 4 to 5 percent hold on total handle, and from that, all the bills must be paid – taxes, employee salaries, technology upgrades and more – which leaves a very modest profit at best.

“I would certainly temper expectations, with profit margins being much less than parlays,” Kirk said. “We’re used to a profit margin of 30 percent the last several years for the parlay product. So we have to do six times the volume to make the same amount of money.”

Prices on single-game wagering will mirror what bettors in Nevada are accustomed to, with pointspreads and totals at the standard -110 unless otherwise stated. The parlay payout table is not yet available on the Delaware Lottery Website’s How to Bet Guide.

Delaware will continue to offer the parlay lottery game, but thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, it will expand to include college football. Also, the parlay cards previously required a minimum of three separate games; that now changes to three separate outcomes, allowing players to bet on a side and total from the same game and parlay those with a side or total from another game to meet the three-pick minimum.

Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.