Three months ago, the owners of three racinos in the state of Delaware signed on to what they thought was a new day in Delaware gaming. Last month, they were facing the fallout of just what they bargained for.
An appellate court judge in late August issued an injunction stopping a plan to institute single-game sports betting by football season. All three racinos-Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway-had planned to open full Vegas-style sports books September 1 under a law signed in May by Governor Jack Markell.
The law also authorizes table games to be placed alongside the slots already at the racetrack casinos. That plan suffered a setback when Markell and top lawmakers opted not to call a special fall session to approve regulations. Tables are not expected to go live until next summer at the earliest.
The sports wagering, though, was approved for football season with both single-game and parlay, or multi-game wagers. Delaware was one of four states grandfathered under a 1992 federal ban on sports betting, based on a 1976 sports lottery run by the state. An expected lawsuit filed by the major sports leagues-the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA-sought to block implementation of sports wagering because the 1976 lottery allowed only parlay bets and not single-game wagering. A District Court judge held for the state, denying the leagues’ request for an injunction to halt wagering while the case was pending.
The leagues quickly appealed and were granted expedited status by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. One week prior to the opening of the NFL season, the three-member appellate panel agreed with the leagues and granted an injunction blocking single-game sports betting.
As the leagues had hoped, the panel ruled on the merits of the case, rather than the procedural matter of a temporary injunction while the case was ongoing. Voting unanimously, the court held that single-game wagering “violates the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act”-the 1992 federal ban-and that Delaware’s grandfather status applied only to the multi-game parlay wagering present in the 1976 sports lottery.
In addition, Delaware will only be able to accept parlay bets on the NFL, but not on any other sport.
Delaware has appealed the decision to the full 12-member federal appellate court. Meanwhile, Delaware sports betting went live at the start of the NFL season, but bettors were limited to three-game parlays, which means that the state sports books will be dark on the biggest betting day of the year-Super Bowl Sunday in February.