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Sports betting about to become legal in Delaware

Thread Starter Sports betting about to become legal in Delaware
Matty O'Shea
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Will an intrepid governor shake up sports betting ... and politics?

by Chad Millman

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Coming to a Delaware gas station near you?

A prediction: Sometime soon - after Tim Tebow brings peace to the Middle East but before the Lions become contenders - you'll walk into your local deli and bet on sports. You won't get pinched. You won't go on the lam if you can't pay up. Seriously. It's a lock.

For this, you may have Jack Markell to thank. Which is funny because Markell, Delaware's governor-elect, is not a betting man. Hasn't been to Vegas in 15 years, can't remember ever playing one of his state's slot machines, never gambles on football or basketball.

And yet, soon after he's sworn in on January 20th, there's a chance he'll start an avalanche of unprecedented gambling reform, and become the betting man's biggest hero since Charles McNeil invented the point spread.

That's because Markell has a problem that needs solving, pronto. The brainy kid who went to Delaware's Newark High, married his high school sweetheart, got an MBA from the University of Chicago and spent 10 years as his native state's treasurer finally has his dream job. Only it comes with a $3.35 billion budget that is, oh, about $600 million short. "Right now," the Gov-elect says, "we've got to get our fiscal house in order."

"You look for places where you can differentiate yourself," says Markell. "And Delaware can consider sports gaming."

One way he may do that? Approve sports betting in his state. "You look for places where you can differentiate yourself," says Markell. "And Delaware can consider sports gaming."

Back in 1992, when Congress banned state governments from being in the bookmaking biz, it exempted four that already allowed sports betting: Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware. Oregon's run began in 1989 and was handled by the state lottery, which sold parlay tickets from $2-$20. But the state killed the program in 2007, hoping to attract more NCAA events. Montana legalized a sports lottery in 1973, and this past NFL season started a weekly fantasy betting game that costs between $5 and $100.

Delaware toyed with a sports lottery in the 1970s, too, but quickly bailed. Turns out the state bookmakers weren't very good. Still, its law stayed on the books and last year, with the economy in a freefall, a bill to reintroduce sports betting passed through the Deleware House. Then it died in a senate committee when the outgoing governor said she'd put the kibosh on it. But, on the campaign trail, Markell said he was open to the idea.

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Now that he's the boss I called to ask, what's up? He called me back - just him by the way, no aide telling me to standby for the Governor-elect - and he said all the smart things: He still has to do a lot of research. He wants to hear from proponents and opponents. He won't do it if the costs outweigh the benefits. But, he says, "I'm not philosophically opposed to it. We've already got gaming in the state and you can't be a little big pregnant. There will be a lot of interest in this idea fairly soon."

And not just in Delaware. Consider this: When Congress banned states from booking sports 17 years ago, gambling of any kind was legal in just a handful of places. Now, it's allowed in 37 states. That includes Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, all of which border Delaware or are a daytrip away. Markell's decision - and I'm betting NFL parlays are the rage from Dewey Beach to Wilmington by next season - will have his neighbors scrambling to keep up. With an estimated $5 billion bet on sports online every year, all that headed out of the country, you think any of them want to lose business to, and look less progressive than, a state the size of a thumbprint? Please.

But here's the rub: The only way these states can play Delaware's game is by getting the 1992 betting ban overturned. This is gonna take muscle. Which means it's time to call in the boys from Jersey. They're itching for a fight. Shocker.

On the trail.

Gambling options on the Eastern seaboard and on the Internet have been eroding Atlantic City's profits since Sinatra headlined the Sands. Now Delaware - a roll of the dice away from AC - may allow sports betting? When the boardwalk is empty on Super Bowl Sunday? That's just too much.

For months Jersey's state legislature has been leaning on its U.S. congressmen to challenge the ban. This past December, the state assembly passed a resolution making its opposition official. It sends a message, but has as much teeth as a newborn. "Really," says N.J. State Senator Raymond Lesniak, "we have no chance of getting it overturned in Congress."

In American politics sports betting is the third rail of vices. And the leagues lobby hard to oppose it, whether the state has a pro team or not. So, in late February, Lesniak says he's gonna kick the federal government in the shins, filing a lawsuit that claims the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act is discriminatory and unconstitutional. "When they banned sports betting we were living in a different world," says Lesniak, who pays the bills as a lawyer. "Now it's legal where there are other gambling options as well, it should be legal here."

And this is how change is started. It's a pragmatic governor getting smart about a budget crisis; a bunch of states trying to compete with him; an aggrieved state senator filing a lawsuit.

And, guarantee, one day, this is how it will end: You'll walk into a deli and order a small coffee, a donut, the Chargers plus-six and a pack of gum.

Hold the cuffs.

[edited by: Matty O'Shea at 9:27 PM (GMT -8) on Tue, Feb 3 2009]
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Despite opposition, Delaware might bring back sports betting

By Steve Berkowitz, USA TODAY

Legal, lottery-style betting on pro and college sports events might be coming to Delaware, where several recent developments could prompt lawmakers to activate the state's exemption from the 1992 federal law that generally bans such gambling.

A governor who opposed sports betting has departed after serving the maximum two four-year terms. The state projects an estimated $600 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1. And the pillars of its gaming industry ? horse racing and slot machines ? are up against challenges from the introduction, or approval, of slot machines in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

"This year is different," state House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said.

Delaware's House of Representatives passed a sports-betting bill last year 28-10, but it didn't get past a state Senate committee because of disagreements over operational details and then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's opposition.

Schwartzkopf and Senate Majority Leader Tony DeLuca say a sports-betting bill will be introduced after legislators reconvene March 17, following six weeks of budget hearings. "A properly written bill stands a pretty good chance" of becoming law, Schwartzkopf said.

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Gov. Jack Markell has asked the state's finance office to talk with companies that would be interested in running a sports lottery about the amounts of direct and ancillary revenue this type of betting could produce, spokesman Joe Rogalsky said.

Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon have exceptions to the federal sports-betting ban because they had forms of legalized pro and college sports betting before or close to the time when legislation was introduced in 1991. Nevada was the only state with largely unlimited sports betting. Delaware and Oregon had operated sports lotteries, so named because they require players to wager on more than one outcome in a single bet known as a parlay; this creates more of an element of chance than is involved with betting on a single outcome in a sporting event.

Parlay betting on NFL games under the lottery system was allowed in Oregon from 1989 until 2006, when state lawmakers voted to end it.

It wasn't because of pressure from the NFL. And it wasn't because bettor interest had declined; in 2006, sales for the so-called sports lottery increased for a fifth consecutive year and set a record of $14 million.

"The rationale was that the state could realize more economic benefit from hosting NCAA (basketball) tournament games ? specifically men's games," Oregon Lottery spokesman Chuck Baumann says.

And, Baumann says, the NCAA Division I men's basketball committee had made clear that if sports betting existed in Oregon, tournament games would not. In March, first- and second-round games will be played in Portland, the state's first men's tournament games since 1983.

As lawmakers in Delaware consider allowing pro and college sports parlay betting, they say they aren't worrying much about pressure from the NCAA, NFL or any other sports organization.

And such opposition will come "vigorously," says Laird Stabler, a lobbyist in Delaware who represents the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the NCAA, "all of which strongly oppose states legalizing, and thereby promoting, betting on their sporting events."

But there are no venues in Delaware large enough for an event such as the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and legislators, facing a projected $600 million deficit for fiscal 2010 and threats to the state's lucrative gaming industry, are unlikely to be swayed by impact on possible NCAA postseason home games for the University of Delaware or Delaware State, says DeLuca.

"We have seen lobbying for the NFL come in," says DeLuca, referring to last year when the state House of Representatives approved sports-betting legislation that had faltered in the Senate. "They say they don't want to be associated with gambling. With no disrespect intended, I think that boat has already sailed."

DeLuca and Schwartzkopf say the primary obstacles to passage of a bill by legislators are mechanical issues: whether sports betting would be limited to casinos at the state's three horse racing tracks; the cost of licensing and specifics of how the betting would work.

"There are all kinds of people with vested interests," DeLuca says. "And I'm sure there will be lively debate, but I would say (a bill) is going to be successful."

This is not only a function of potential revenue gain, Schwartzkopf says, but also prevention of projected revenue loss. Delaware has a lottery, slot machines and horse racing. In fiscal 2008, it got more than $250 million of its $3.3 billion budget from slots and the lottery ? $213 million from slots. That makes the lottery and slots the state's No. 4 income source to personal income taxes, franchise taxes and abandoned property.

Pennsylvania introduced slot machines in 2007. Maryland voters in November approved slots, which could start operating in 2010. Delaware has avoided large revenue losses to Pennsylvania by adding machines, extending hours and using promotions, says Thomas J. Cook, the state's deputy secretary of finance. Without sports betting, Cook says, Delaware could lose $70 million a year in revenue once Maryland's slots are fully operational.

Stabler says he questions the degree to which sports betting in Delaware could offset that.

"Even without the (budget) deficit, we have to stay competitive," Schwartzkopf says. "The bottom line with sports betting is that only Delaware can do it east of the Mississippi (federal law also allows it in Nevada and Montana). Sports betting can draw people away from the other states. And while there is money to be made on sports betting, the real dollars are in the carryover to casinos" in slot play and meals.

[edited by: Matty O'Shea at 9:30 PM (GMT -8) on Tue, Feb 3 2009]
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I will tell you this...when I was back living in Philly and booking work, I knew a handful of books who set up shot just across the border in Delaware because of their very lenient laws against bookmaking...If I am not mistaken, at that time it wasn't even a felony and all you received was a the very least for the first 2-3 pinches...So this was just a matter of time and I'm sure the bookies back there aren't too happy about it either...Great piece Matty and best of luck, VR

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YES THERE IS A GOD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "BUT" I DON'T SEE VEGAS LETTING IT HAPPEN ! (TIME TO CALL IN A FEW "FAVORS" !!!!!!!!!! ) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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 That's awesome, too bad nobody knows where friggin Delaware is Tongue Tied

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