Finance

Beating the Spread

What happens in Vegas is coming to Delaware. In May, Delaware became the third state, along with Nevada and Montana, to allow betting on sporting...
by | July 31, 2009

What happens in Vegas is coming to Delaware.

In May, Delaware became the third state, along with Nevada and Montana, to allow betting on sporting events. Barring last-minute legal action*, the state's three racetrack casinos will take bets on football games when the season kicks off next month.

In making the move, one of the nation's smallest states is defying two of the largest, most powerful sporting organizations: the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Both have long opposed sports gambling, fearing that whenever a referee bungles a call or a kicker shanks a field goal, fans will assume the games are fixed. As Jeff Miller, the NFL's vice president for governmental relations puts it, "Sports betting, and especially state-sanctioned sports betting, suggests the games are more about money than the achievement of the players and the teams."

Miller went to Dover this spring to testify against the legislation, while NFL lobbyists worked the legislature in an effort to kill the authorizing bill. The NCAA tried a different tack, threatening not to hold any playoff games in the state. But Governor Jack Markell countered that Delaware could badly use the estimated $55 million in annual revenue that gambling on sports would produce. In the end, the rookie governor won out in the state legislature.

Now, other states want to follow. But for the time being, almost all of them are banned by a 1992 federal law from doing so. (The law exempted the four states with some history of sports gambling: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.) New Jersey state Senator Raymond Lesniak is suing in federal court to overturn the law. It's no wonder: Delaware's racetracks are about to offer something that nearby Atlantic City's casinos don't. "The governor is not going to help New Jersey with it," says Markell's spokesman, Joe Rogalsky. "Right now, it's the law of the land that Delaware is the only state east of the Rockies that can allow sports gaming.

*A federal appeals court ruled that Delaware is in violation of a federal prohibition against sports gambling.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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