Delaware high court gives OK to sports bets

DOVER, Del. -- The Delaware Supreme Court has ruled that a law allowing sports betting does not conflict with the state constitution, paving the way for Delaware to become the only state east of the Rocky Mountains to allow wagering on the outcome of games.

In a 22-page ruling dated Wednesday, the court said the state constitution permits lotteries that have an element of skill, as long as chance is the predominant factor in winning or losing. The opinion comes in response to Gov. Jack Markell's request for the court's views on a law he signed this month authorizing a sports betting lottery.

"I am very pleased with the Supreme Court's decision," reads a statement by Markell, who is relying on the lottery to help overcome a projected revenue shortfall of more than $600 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

The court's ruling could lead to a legal challenge by professional sports leagues, which claim that sports betting would tarnish the image of athletics and lure young people into gambling. Kenneth Nachbar, an attorney who represented the NFL in oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.

As envisioned by Markell, the sports lottery would allow straight bets on the outcome of athletic events, using a point spread or money line to ensure roughly equal amounts of wagers on each side; over/under betting on the total score of a game; and parlay bets. Participants wouldn't be allowed to wager on games involving college, amateur or Delaware-based professional teams.

Because of a brief, failed experiment with a sports lottery in the 1970s, Delaware is one of only four states grandfathered under a 1992 federal law that bans sports gambling. The other states are Nevada, Montana and Oregon.