Delaware welcomes sports betting just in time for NBA, NHL finals

Updated June 5, 2018 - 5:49 pm

DOVER, Del. — The market for legal sports gambling in the United States widened significantly on Tuesday with the expansion of single-game sports bets in Delaware, putting legal wagering within driving distance of three major East Coast cities less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to accept the bets.

Instead of flying to Las Vegas or betting illegally, fans in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington can make a short drive to legally wager in Delaware on the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Final or the World Cup. More states are likely to join the action by the time the NFL starts its season in the fall.

Gov. John Carney planned to join other state officials Tuesday afternoon at Dover Downs for the launch of sports betting at Delaware’s three casinos, which will offer single-game and championship wagering on professional baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, golf and auto racing.

Because of a failed sports lottery experiment in 1976, Delaware was partially exempted from the 1992 federal ban on sports gambling that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court.

That exemption led to broader sports betting legislation passed in 2009 and Delaware’s current NFL parlay wagering system, which combined to give the state a head start in offering full-scale sports wagering.

“Obviously the key is going to be the football season because the bulk of betting in America is on football,” Delaware Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger said last week. “We’ll learn a little bit in June and July, but we’ll learn a lot more in September.”

Nevada sportsbook directors have said they expect the expansion of nationwide sports wagering ultimately would help local books because they have a head start on the new entries and other casino amenities — restaurants, shows and other gambling — will give sports bettors more to do if they come to Nevada.

Gaming attorney I. Nelson Rose, a law professor at Whittier College in California who has written extensively about the impact of sports wagering, believes Nevada casinos will weather the new competition well initially, but could lose out in the long run.

“Nevada casinos, especially its largest sports book operator, Caesars, will probably actually do well for years,” Rose said in a blog post Tuesday. “It will take months and in some cases years for new state laws and regulations. Meanwhile, more and more people will be hearing about the coming wave of legalization. It should be easy for Las Vegas to capitalize on the growing interest in wagering on sports events.”

But he added that could come to an end in a few years.

“Eventually Nevada will be hurt by nationwide competition,” Rose said. “Why drive five hours to make a bet if a local sports book is down the block, or available by phone or computer?”

Rose told the Review-Journal Tuesday he expects California eventually to pass sports-betting legislation that could impact Nevada.

While Delaware is the first state to take advantage of the Supreme Court decision, sports fans in three other states — New Jersey, Mississippi and West Virginia — could be placing bets by football season.

Review-Journal staff writer Richard N. Velotta contributed to this report.

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