Delaware residents, visitors cheer opening day of sports full betting

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Sports and gambling fans cheered as Delaware Gov. John Carney made the first official bet on baseball at the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino Tuesday as the First State became the second in the nation to offer full sports betting.

“I want to place a $10 bet on the Philadelphia Fightin’ Phils to beat the Chicago Cubs in Chicago tonight,” Carney said.

State officials expect the launch to make a significant contribution to tourism in Delaware — where 17 percent of visitors participate in gambling.

“Tourism is a big thing in our state, particularly as we move into the summer season, and in the beach areas we have hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the region — increasingly people from those states come to retire here,” Carney said.

“Today we’re going to be first in offering them an entertainment opportunity so they can support their sports teams, hopefully those Philadelphia teams I mentioned a minute ago, by making a legal wager.”

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for full-scale sports betting nationwide. Previously, only Nevada had allowed sports wagering on individual games.

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year. Before the ruling, one research firm estimated that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.

Because of a failed attempt at allowing wagers on NFL games in the 1970s, Delaware was grandfathered in when a 1992 federal law banned commercial sports betting.

In 2009, the state started offering parlay bets on NFL games that had to include at least three games. Since then, state leaders have prepared for the possibility of expanding sports betting to single-game bets on sports other than professional football.

“We have been assembling training materials, updating and testing our software,” said state Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger. “When the [Supreme] Court did take action a few weeks ago, we moved very quickly to put our plan in place, training scores of casino employees, lottery office staff, Division of Gaming Enforcement staff.”

Professional football parlay cards have been available at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino since 2009, but players had to bet on at least three games at a time, and only on the NFL. Now, gamblers can place wagers on baseball, basketball, boxing and mixed martial arts, football, hockey and soccer.

There are multiple ways to bet on individual games, events and matches, such as parlays, futures, teasers, point spreads, over-unders, and money lines. NFL and college football parlay cards will still be available.

Proposition bets — such as wagering on which team will score the first touchdown — also will be offered.

The expansion means a lot to Dover resident John Thorner who said he spends about $1,000 a week betting on  football, mostly on the internet.

“If you’re hot and you win, the payout can be excellent. But it was difficult with the football bet because you have to pick three teams, three games. This, you could do individual games, halves, quarters — it’s basically Vegas, so it makes it easier for the betting consumer,” he said. “It means everything. I don’t have to travel 3,000 miles to Vegas anymore — everything is in my back yard.”

Stephen Borkowicz of Washington, D.C., plays about four times a week, mostly online, betting between $100 and a few thousand dollars. Now he will play at the casino in Dover frequently.

“It’s great because, online, it tends to be hard to get paid. Some places will not pay you or it will take a long time to get your money back,” he said. “Here, if I make a winning wager, I come in, cash my ticket, and get my money right away.”

The expansion of sports betting is not expected to be a significant revenue driver. In 2017, bettors wagered $3.6 million on NFL games. The state paid out $1.3 million in winnings to bettors, and it collected nearly $2 million in net proceeds.

That same year, Dover Downs reported a million-dollar loss. And, in April, the Senate passed a bill to reduce the state’s cut of gaming revenue.

The casino has hired five tellers to handle the expanded sports betting, compared with 500 for the debut of table games.

New Jersey also is rapidly taking steps to authorize sports betting — and may do so by the end of the week.

Dover Downs president and CEO Ed Sutor said there will be a steady stream of betters in Delaware until then.

“Soon they’re going to be all around us,” he said. “So this period now where we’re the only one is only going to last a short amount of time — but we’ll take it.”

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