A federal appeals court today limited Delaware's plans for a new sports betting lottery to parlay bets on professional football games only.
The three Delaware racetrack casinos, according to the court, can only offer parlay betting, which means bettors have to pick the winners of at least three separate NFL games in a single wager.
"While we are disappointed the decision does not provide the flexibility we had hoped for, Delaware is still the only state east of the Rocky Mountains that can offer a legal sports lottery on NFL football," said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell in response to the court's opinion. "We continue to believe this is an opportunity to create jobs and generate revenue to help us keep teachers in the classroom, police on the street and maintain other core commitments of state government.
"The state's attorneys are reviewing today's written opinion from the Court of Appeals and we will be discussing our legal options with them," he said.
Delaware had been counting on sports betting to generate about $53 million a year to help plug a nearly $800 million budget deficit.
But a three-judge panel of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared last week that Delaware's sports betting plan, which included single-game bets and wagering on a variety of professional and collegiate sports, violated a 1992 federal ban on sports gambling - known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act - but did not say why.
Today, the panel outlined its reasoning in a 23-page opinion.
The court said it interpreted language that exempted Delaware from the 1992 federal ban as precluding any type of betting beyond what it had offered in a failed National Football League lottery in 1976. That lottery lasted only four months and had disappointing revenue results.
The three Delaware casino racetracks had invested millions of dollars to build new Sportsbooks to accomodate sportsbetting in preparation for the start of the NFL season this week.
"I'm disappointed," said Patti Key, chief executive officer of Harrington Raceway and Casino in Harrington, Del.
Key said parlay betting will not generate near the revenue and foot traffic that sports betting would have had.
"It's not nearly as a big of a crowd," she said. "It puts us at a loss in operations because most of sports betting revenue would have come from cross-over play into slots.
"The whole key to sports betting is as a revenue generator," Key said. "It attracts the traffic, the younger aged crowd coming in vs. your typical slots player, which is a female in her late 50's. With less people, we will not have that level of play, and we are in a loss mode or situation."