August 24, 2009 - 10:30 am
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia on Monday blocked plans by Delaware from offering single-game sports betting at the state’s three race tracks.
However, the state will allow the tracks to offer customers wagering opportunities on parlay cards covering NFL games, similar to what the state offered in 1976.
A three-judge panel from U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, after a two-hour hearing, sided with the arguments brought by attorneys representing the four major professional sports leagues in the NCAA, who claimed Delaware’s plans to offer single-game wagering violated federal law.
The judges panel told lawyers and reporters gathered for the hearing that it will issue a formal order later Monday further explaining the decision.
Single-game sports wagering in Delaware was expected to start next week.
Brandywine Bookmaking of Las Vegas, which operates the Lucky’s Race and Sports Books brand, was approved by Delaware to operate the sports books at the three race tracks.
Brandywine President Joe Asher declined to comment on the ruling, deferring any remarks to the Delaware Lottery and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell.
In an e-mailed statement, Markell, who made legalizing sports wagering in Delaware a key issue, said he was disappointed by the ruling and was evaluating other legal steps.
“The state still has the legal authority to offer a sports lottery of parlays involving professional football games, which is a competitive advantage for our three racinos,” Markell said.
Because of its parlay cards offered through lottery 23 years ago, Delaware was one of four states, along with Nevada, Oregon and Montana, that was exempted from a 1992 federal ban on sports wagering known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
Nevada is currently the only state where wagering on individual professional and college games is taking place. In 2008, Nevada sports books took in $2.6 billion in wagers.
An attorney for Markell told the judges that sports wagering was expected to generate as much as $17 million in Delaware during the fiscal year. The state is relying on the money to close an $800 million budget gap.
Single-game betting, however, “impacts on the integrity and image of the game” by raising doubts in fans’ minds about “what happens on the field,” said NFL lawyer Kenneth Nachbar.
The NFL, along with the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL and the NCAA, sued last month, alleging the plan authorized by state law in May violates Delaware’s constitution and federal law.
Brandywine had planned to open its sports books next Tuesday. Asher said it was hard to predict how popular sports wagering would be in Delaware, but the race tracks were all located within a two-hour drive from Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, which collectively offer some 30 million potential customers.
Susquehanna gaming analyst Robert LaFleur said casinos in Atlantic City would hail the ruling.
“This setback is a mild positive for Atlantic City, who for now will dodge one incremental competitive pressure that it clearly does not need,” LaFleur told investors.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Bloomberg News contributed to this report.