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."
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.
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.
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.
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
"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
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
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
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.
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 fine...at 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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That's awesome, too bad nobody knows where friggin Delaware is