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DOVER — Today is a momentous day for Delaware casinos, the state lottery, and sports bettors throughout the region.
This afternoon, Delaware will become the first state outside of Nevada to book a single-game wager. After almost a decade of effort, Delaware sports betting is about to be a reality.
Legal Sports Report is on location at Dover Downs to cover the proceedings, and we’ll post updates here throughout the day.
Quick backstory: Traditional sports betting has been federally illegal since 1992 under the prohibition known as PASPA. The US Supreme Court overturned that ban on May 14, clearing the way for states to legalize and regulate sports betting as they desire. A handful have already passed enabling laws, and Delaware will blaze the trail into market today.
If you had the “Under” on one month from the repeal of PASPA to the first state launch, take your tickets to the window. It’s been just 22 days.
The Delaware Sports Lottery is called Sports Pick, and it falls under the oversight of the state agency. The three DE casinos are permitted to take bets.
The DE Lottery has allowed parlay wagers since 2009, and it’s been trying to graduate into full-scale betting since. Although New Jersey was ultimately responsible for the SCOTUS ruling, Delaware was actually the first to challenge PASPA in court. It lost the battle, but NJ’s win is a victory for itself and every other state with an appetite for sports betting.
The Dover Downs Race & Sports Book opened at 11 a.m. local time, and the first movement began a couple hours prior. A guard posted outside the door let a few employees into the book to prepare.
Lines were posted shortly thereafter, as the board lit up like a Christmas tree. The photo at the top of this story was taken around 11:30 a.m.
Governor John Carney will be in attendance today to give his blessing to the new industry. The governor will place the very first bet this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. Once he does, the windows will open for the rest of the patrons at Dover Downs and the other two properties. Books will be taking action on baseball, basketball, hockey, football, soccer, golf and auto racing.
The DE Lottery has also published a how-to on sports betting, for those wanting to learn the lingo.
About an hour from the start time, a crowd has begun to materialize inside the sportsbook.
Staff members and stakeholders were the first to arrive, led by DE Lottery Director Vernon Kirk. He may have some words to say over the microphone shortly. There are a couple Gaming officers here, too, identifiable by the state seal on their lapels.
The Dover Downs public relations team seems to be having a busy day of wrangling. There are maybe 20-25 media outlets represented in the room, many toting broadcast cameras. ESPN analyst Darren Rovell just finished his stand-up for the Worldwide Leader over in the corner of the room.
Sportsbook Director Denis McGlyn has also appeared for the first time today. Here’s what he had to say to LSR:
The process has gone very smoothly. I think the lottery office had a big jump on this by virtue of our operations over the last 10 years. They were able to — after the Supreme Court resolution — they were able to get us up and running in what — two weeks? So, kudos to them. It’s been very light lifting for us.
I think the thing we’re excited about is the impact it’s going to have on customers. I think they’re the big winners here. I think the way it’s currently set up is not necessarily as big a win for us, but we’re glad to have the amenity for our customers.
Gov. Carney is expected to arrive on property around 1:15 p.m.
There must have been nearly 100 media members gathered for the press conference, which McGlyn opened.
“As you can imagine,” McGlyn said, “it’s a big day for Delaware sports fans. For the first time, they’ll be able to legally place single-game bets on a variety of sports.”
McGlyn thanked the governor and Secretary of Finance Rick Geisenberger for “getting us up to this point where, in a few minutes, we’ll be able to place Delaware’s first legal bet right here at Dover Downs.”
His comments were brief, quickly yielding the podium to Geisenberger.
“It’s an exciting day here in Delaware, but days like this don’t happen by accident,” Geisenberger began. “This is a journey that started 25 years ago…”
Around that time, lawmakers moved to allow video lottery terminals at the state’s horse racing tracks. “That was a two-for that both saved this state’s rich heritage of standard and thoroughbred horse racing,” Geisenberger said, “but it also created a very successful model for the casino entertainment industry here in our state.”
According to Geisenberger, it was “no accident” that Delaware entered the post-PASPA market first:
The Carney administration and the casinos have been preparing for the possibility that the Supreme Court would invalidate PASPA… for the past six months.
We have been assembling training materials, updating and testing our software — we even developed some logo options for Sports Pick, and that list goes on and on. So when the court did take action a few weeks ago, we moved very quickly to put our plan into place…
The secretary called sports betting a great example of how Delaware moves “nimbly as a state in all manner of things.” He then passed the microphone to Elizabeth Keller, the state’s director of tourism.
With only a million residents, Delaware’s finances are heavily reliant on residents of nearby states. Keller was also brief, pitching sports betting as a visitor attraction.
Tourism is big business in Delaware. It contributes $3.3 billion to the state’s GDP. So any new discovery, any new enhancement to the experience a traveler can have here in Delaware will bring in more visitation and hopefully more impact to the state.
According to Keller, 17 percent of Delaware visitors participate in the gaming industry. She also cited the beaches, casino gaming, and tax-free shopping as the primary draws. The addition of sports betting, she expects, will help the state attract a younger demographic of gambling tourist.
The director expressed some pride at being the First State once again, too. “That doesn’t happen without forward-thinking leadership,” she said, “and it is my honor to introduce our leader who continues to move the state forward.”
She announced the governor to a chorus of cheers.
Gov. Carney had a big smile on his face when he arrived at Dover Downs. He’s a good storyteller, and he opened his speech with a quick history lesson.
Carey laid out how Delaware earned its nickname as the first state to join the union in 1787. “We were the whole country for about a week,” he laughed, “and then the rest of the states joined us.” The Golden Fleece Tavern, where the Founding Fathers signed the US Constitution, is less than three miles from Dover Downs.
It made for a beautiful segue. “We’re delighted to be first again today in allowing official betting on sports activities across our country,” Carney said.
Tying into previous remarks, he spent some time focusing on the potential appeal to tourists.
This is really about bringing visitors to our state, giving them things to do when they’re here. As Liz said, tourism is a big thing in our state. Particularly as we move into the summer season, in the beach areas, we have hundreds of thousands of visitors that come from all over the region.
Carney is a Delaware native and a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan, and he telegraphed his first bet.
“Today, I’m going to be the first here outside of Las Vegas to make a legal wager on one of those Philadelphia teams,” he said. “The Fightin’ Phils!”
Right on time at 1:30 p.m., the governor pulled a crisp $10 bill from his pocket and presented it to the cameras. “That’s the $10 bill that’s going to go on the Philadelphia Phillies against the Chicago Cubs tonight at Wrigley Field,” he said.
To another round of applause (and a swarm of cameras), Carney stepped to the window and placed his bet with the teller. The first legal, single-game wager outside of Nevada goes on the Phillies +200.
Carney admitted he’ll be betting with his heart when he participates in the new industry. “There will be no bets from this governor on any other teams than the Philadelphia teams…,” he said.
Once he stepped to the side for interviews, lines quickly began to form at the windows.
Just like that, sports betting is a reality in Delaware!