Delaware sportsbetting numbers disappointing

Restrictions on types of wagers that may be taken dampen expected results

Comments by a respected journalist in Delaware's News Journal are receiving wide publicity following the high profile dispute over sportsbetting that has seen the state clashing with the major US sports leagues recently (see previous InfoPowa reports).

Quoting official sources, journo Jeff Montgomery has revealed that the first week's betting revenues have been lower than predicted, with Delaware's casinos handling $257 870 in sports wagers on National Football League action.

And although it is still early days in the new market, Montgomery observes: "Even without deductions for payments to winners among the more than 14 500 people who placed bets, the total was only a fraction of the weekly average needed to produce the $3 million earnings share forecast for the state general fund when lawmakers approved the venture earlier this year."

The state government headed by Governor Jack Markell had originally based its budget-deficit-closing calculations on a year-round, single- and multiple-game wagering regime on a variety of sports. But last month, a federal appeals court barred Delaware from allowing anything more than "parlay" bets on three or more NFL matches, restraining the new venture's capacity.

"The first weekend numbers are encouraging," said Joe Rogalsky, a spokesman for the governor. "Clearly we don't have the flexibility that we had hoped for to make it as lucrative as possible."

Political opponents were less sanguine, with House Minority Leader Richard C. Cathcart remarking: "If we only have the NFL betting, we're in deep trouble. It's obviously critical that we win at least that part of our argument in the appeal that we're allowed to bet other sports, because that's the only way this thing survives."

Responding, Rogalsky said it was a "fair assessment" that a state economic forecasting agency will have to reduce revenue estimates from sports betting when they meet Monday. Court-sanctioned terms would allow betting only during about 20 weeks out of the year.

Supporters of the sports betting proposal had predicted full-year state revenues of about $17 million overall, which included $14 million in "crossover" slot machine play attributed to increased casino traffic because of sports betting opportunities.

Acting Finance Secretary Tom Cook said the state's three casinos reported slots play did rebound last week after a 5.7 percent decline following the national economic downturn. By comparison, slots receipts were down only 0.3 percent last week compared with the previous year.

"Most of the anticipated boost in revenue was going to come from crossover slots play," said House Majority Leader Peter C. Schwartzkopf. "If we picked up 5 percent in the middle of a recession, I think that's a pretty good sign. We just need to continue on."

Lawmakers agreed the state would take 50 percent of total receipts after payments to winners and after assigning 15.62 percent of the remainder to a game contractor. Casinos would receive 40 percent and the state's horse racing industry 10 percent.

Bill Fasy, Delaware Park's chief operating officer, said in a written statement that sports betting "brought new customers to Delaware Park and significantly increased our traffic over the weekend. As more people learn about this product the greater the potential is for this segment of our business to grow."

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