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Delaware Acts Swiftly to Allow Sports Bets

Delaware is officially giving Las Vegas a run for its money.

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, New York Times

Delaware is officially giving Las Vegas a run for its money.

On Tuesday afternoon, the small state on the Eastern Seaboard began offering full-scale sports betting, making it the first state to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision last month to strike down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting in most states.

In a tweet, Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, announced that he had placed the state’s first legal single-game bet: $10 on the Philadelphia Phillies, who played the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday evening.

Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night will surely drive plenty of bets.

Delaware’s new operations were introduced at 1:30 p.m. at the state’s three casinos — Delaware Park, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino and Harrington Raceway & Casino. Gamblers can now place single-game bets on professional baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, golf and auto racing. In-game bets, wagers placed while play is going on, are not permitted.

On May 14, the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which largely prohibited sports betting outside of Nevada, saying the law was unconstitutional.

“It is as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals,” Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said, writing for the majority. “A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”

With its decision, the Supreme Court opened the door to legalize an estimated $150 billion in illegal wagers on professional and amateur sports that Americans make every year.

“Crushing the illegal market” is crucial, Sara Slane, a senior vice president at the American Gaming Association, a trade group that represents casinos, said Tuesday. “Delaware being the first mover certainly puts more pressure on other states to compete.”

The state was able to move so swiftly because it had been preparing for the possibility of the Supreme Court ruling for six months, Rick Geisenberger, Delaware’s secretary of finance, said in a news conference at Dover Downs on Tuesday — minutes before Carney put down the first bet.

Geisenberger said that the governor and the casinos had been assembling training materials, updating and testing software, working on logo options and training casino employees and gaming enforcement staff.

“It’s an exciting day here in Delaware, but days like this don’t happen by accident,” he said.

When the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was enacted in 1992, it included an exemption that allowed Delaware, Montana, Oregon and Nevada to continue at least some sports-betting operations.

In Delaware, that was a very niche product of parlay-style wagering on NFL football, Slane said. That long-existing structure also helped Delaware take the lead.

Last week, Carney said in statement that “Delaware has all necessary legal and regulatory authority to move forward with a full-scale sports gaming operation.”

On Tuesday, at the news conference, he said, “This is really about bringing visitors to our state, giving them things to do when they’re here.”

In many ways, Delaware’s geographic position is ideal to draw visitors from major cities; it is close to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. But it may soon face competition from other East Coast states. New Jersey and Pennsylvania are expected to soon follow suit, as are West Virginia and Mississippi.

“You’ve already seen a handful of states that have passed and enacted laws,” Slane said. "It makes it crystal clear that there’s obviously excitement about the opportunity to launch sports betting.”

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