When the Governor of Delaware plunked down $10 on June 5 to back his beloved Philadelphia Phillies over the Chicago Cubs, the wager signaled the start of a new era in American sports betting.
Governor John Carney’s flier on the Phillies even managed to produce a $20 profit too, after the (+200) underdogs managed to upset the Cubbies.
That ceremonial bet placed at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino was quickly followed by several larger tickets purchased by more serious bettors, including a series of $500 baseball bets placed by local pro Stu Feiner.
All in all, across the state’s three racetrack / casino venues – Delaware Park, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, and Harrington Raceway & Casino – collected $322,135 in wagers on the first day of business. That number comes straight from Delaware Lottery director Vernon Kirk, who heads the regulatory team helping to get Delaware’s sports betting industry up and running.
Residents of and visitors to Delaware have been able to partially bet on sports for several decades, but only on “parlay cards” based on National Football League (NFL) games. Those parlay cards required several winners to be linked together, and the only tickets that cashed were those that showed all winners.
Traditional single-game or fixed-odds sports betting, a la what you find in a Las Vegas sportsbook, wasn’t available in Delaware – or any American state other than Nevada for that matter. Under a federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992, single-game sports betting was banned everywhere but the Silver State.
That all changed on May 14, however, when the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark 6-3 ruling in a case known as Murphy v. NCAA. That case originated in New Jersey, after the Garden State made repeated attempts to pass its own sports betting laws and regulations. After being sued by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), along with the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL, New Jersey’s final appeal to the Supreme Court wound up in the winning column.
When the Court ruled that PASPA violated the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution – which grants states the right to pass their own laws absent Congressional action – PASPA was officially struck down for good.
What followed that decision three weeks ago has been a veritable gold rush, with New Jersey rushing to put the final touches on its statewide regulations.
But while lawmakers in New Jersey took their time, their counterparts in Delaware already had legal frameworks in place thanks to their parlay card operation. Known as the First State for a reason, Delaware moved quickly to become the first state outside of Nevada to accept legal sports wagers.
Here’s how Governor Carney described the sports betting launch in an interview with ESPN Chalk:
“For us, it’s really an enhancement of our tourism industry.
It will attract a lot of visitors to our state, particularly at this time of year, during the summer, coming to our beautiful beaches south of here.
They come here and stop at the casinos and do slot machine and table gaming. This will be another opportunity for them.”
Carney also took a moment to hype Delaware as the Northeast’s newest sports betting destination when speaking to USA Today:
“Gloating in this business doesn’t last very long.
We are happy to be first today.
I don’t expect we will be the only one very long, but today it feels very good to be first.”
Carney’s historic first bet was placed at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, but the state is home to two more racetrack / casinos with in-house sportsbooks: Delaware Park Racetrack and Harrington Raceway and Casino.
Until the sportsbooks in Atlantic City go live – which should be any minute now – Delaware stands out as the only place for residents of the East Coast to place wagers. With that in mind, bettors will be flocking to these casinos from all corners of the Northeast.
To help get you started on your sports betting journey, I’ve gone ahead and visited each of the three sportsbooks in Delaware. Below you’ll find objective and honest reviews of each facility, along with need to know information like the address, contact number, website, and distances from regional population centers.
So check out my reviews of the three sportsbook venues now operating in Delaware to make a more informed decision with your betting buck:
Delaware Park Racetrack
Address: 777 Delaware Park Blvd, Wilmington, DE 19804
Phone: (302) 994-2521
Distance from Philadelphia:41 miles
Distance from Baltimore:69 miles
Distance from New York: 122 miles
Distance from Boston:355 miles
Located at the very northernmost point of the state, in the city of Wilmington, Delaware Park Racetrack is the most conveniently accessible venue for folks in New York and New England.
It’s also the most attractive of the trio, the casino facility nestled near the banks of the Delaware River along a grassy green hill. From the exterior, Delaware Park appears to be just another stately three-story estate, but once you step foot inside you’ll feel like you’ve walked onto the casino floor in Las Vegas.
Between the slot machines, bright lights, and gold trim, this place is more like the Golden Nugget than your typical rural racetrack.
When you find the sportsbook areas – which are located in the clubhouses on the 1st and 3rd floors – you’ll be greeted by an array of brightly colored tiny lightbulbs displaying the day’s lines and odds. These betting boards used to be cutting edge in Las Vegas about 10 years ago, but Sin City has phased them out in favor of high-definition television screens instead.
But you know what they say about one man’s trash being another’s treasure, so Delaware Park is happy to have the betting boards onsite.
Just ask William Fasy, who serves as president of Delaware Park. During an interview with Deadspin to celebrate his sportsbook opening for business, Fasy touted his venue’s most prominent technological flourish:
“These boards were bought eight years ago, and they’re no longer used anymore in Vegas.
But they’re the best boards in Delaware!”
If you’re unfamiliar with a sportsbook betting board the image below will show you what I’m talking about.
As you can see, each game or wager is coded using a base number (401, 402, etc. in the example image above). When betting on 401 from the image above, you’d be backing the Minnesota Vikings (-10) over the Los Angeles Rams. That (-10) figure refers to the point spread, so in this case, the Vikings would be laying 10 points to the Rams.
If you wanted to take Minnesota without the spread, just look for the positive or negative numbers to the right of the point spread. These figures are known as the “moneyline,” and they reflect true odds on your wager. For the Vikings example, you’d be backing a big (-600) favorite, while a bet on the underdog Rams would offer (+400) on your money.
Each team or participant will have their own number, so you’d simply tell the clerk “$100 on 401moneyline please” to put a c-note down on the Vikes.
In addition to the fancy betting boards, Delaware Park has also put up a bank of self-service wagering kiosks. These weren’t up and running just yet when I visited the facility, but they looked like ATM machines from the early 1990s. Think a boxy frame, small screen, and no-nonsense interface and you’ll get the idea.
You can bet to your heart’s content at Delaware Park, which offers daily action on Major League Baseball (MLB), plus the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals, and a slew of daily golf and tennis tournaments.
If you’re interested in futures betting, take a shot at the upcoming 2018 World Cup soccer tournament, or try and predict which NFL team will take the Super Bowl title this year.
Fasymade it clear in a round of meet and greets with the local media that Delaware Park would be going “all in” on its sportsbook. According to him, every form of betting will be on the table, save one:
“I think the only thing we’re not going to offer is ‘in game’ wagering.
You’re going to have prop bets. You’re just not going to have in game prop bets going on.
And eventually you’re going to have a mobile device.”
The concept of in-game betting was popularized by online sportsbooks, with players able to place additional wagers even as the game is ongoing. Say your team falls into an early hole, and you’re keen on balancing the ledger. Placing an in-game bet on the other side offers valuable protection against upsets and unforeseen circumstances.
While the in-game betting fad won’t be coming to Delaware Park just yet, Fasy did allude to the emergence of mobile and online wagering down the road.
Don’t forget, Delaware is one of only three states – along with Nevada and New Jersey – where a legal and regulated online gambling industry has already gone live. With online casinos and poker rooms already hosted by the state’s three casino / racetracks, it won’t be long until you can download the Delaware Park sportsbook app directly to your smartphone or mobile device.
When it comes to customer service, Delaware Park really hit the ball out of the park. Under guidance from Fasy – who is clearly enthusiastic about turning the place into a sports bettor’s haven – the staff here are knowledgeable and courteous. Sure, a few hiccups could be seen in terms of erroneous tickets and the like, such as my futures bet on the Miami Dolphins season win total being entered as a Miami Marlins moneyline by mistake.
But those growing pains are to be expected for any new sportsbook. Thanks to the helpful attendants, I was able to cancel the Marlins ticket and exchange it for the Dolphins in a matter of minutes.
All in all, I can’t recommend Delaware Park enough, based both on the venue’s modern feel and Fasy’s clear commitment to creating the state’s best sportsbook.
Dover Downs Hotel and Casino
Address: 1131 North DuPont Highway; Dover, Delaware
Distance from Philadelphia: 78 miles
Distance from Baltimore:106 miles
Distance from New York: 165 miles
Distance from Boston: 388 miles
When I first laid eyes on Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, my first thought was of the glittering Off-Strip casinos scattered throughout the Las Vegas desert.
Places like the South Point and Red Rock Resort, which combine sprawling hotel towers spanning several stories with classical architecture – that’s what Dover Downs is going for.
And the illusion isn’t broken one bit when you walk through the doors. Vaulted ceilings, fancy artwork, and marble floors all combine to turn the place into a casino connoisseur’s dream come true. This place has convention halls, shopping outlets, and of course, a racetrack where NASCAR events are hosted each year.
Head through the main entrance and find the nearest bar off to the side, and you’ll be smack dab in the sportsbook. Just look for the big comfy chairs and massive projector screens overhead, and you’re there.
At first glance, the sportsbook facility at Dover Downs seems to suggest a thriving enterprise set to capitalize on the demise of PASPA. And to be sure, the facility has expanded its offerings to include the full complement of single-game wagers, props, and futures.
But during my time there, the focus from staff and customers alike remained on horse racing. That makes sense I suppose, what with the venue’s longstanding association with the “Sport of Kings.”
I was curious, however, about the apparent lack of buzz concerning ordinary sports betting, especially with the NBA and NHL Finals going on at the time.
A little digging around told the tale, as I found the following quote from Dover Downs president Ed Sutor in an article published by theDelaware Public:
“It’s nice to have. [But] in Nevada, where they’ve had it for 50 years, it only represents about two percent of their revenues.
A lot of people are mistaking the amounts bet as the revenue.
It’s not a huge take for the industry.”
Sutor wasn’t the only Dover Downs executive who seemed to be lukewarm at best when it came to expanded sportsbooks in the state:
Dover Downs Gamingchief executive officer Denis McGlynn threw cold water on the notion that sports betting would be an economic boon for the state when speaking to Delaware Online:
“There is a lot of rhetoric that gets thrown around down there that doesn’t have any basis in fact.People need to manage their expectations on this.
The dollars that are left over after you pay off the winners are very little and you divide it among a variety of people in this state.
When (surrounding states) get up and running, we’re just going to see a draining of people who are coming here, just as we have seen in the regular casino business and prior to that in the horse racing business.”
While a pragmatic business outlook certainly makes sense, especially from an operator’s perspective, I’m not sure I understand Dover Downs’ angle on this.
By neglecting to embrace the full spectrum of sports betting options now open to Delaware, the venue risks being left in Delaware Park’s dust. And perhaps that’s already the case.
Last year the state of Delaware collected $1.9 million in revenue on its parlay card games. From that figure, Delaware Park dominated the market with $1.2 million, almost three times that taken in by Dover Downs ($422,000).
The lack of faith expressed by the higher-ups at Dover Downs seems to have trickled down to the staff level. Clerks didn’t seem very informed when I asked about futures betting, and unless you were wagering on the ponies, nobody expressed the kind excitement I felt back at Delaware Park.
And that’s a shame too, because from the outside in, this venue boasts the type of amenities every gambler appreciates.
Harrington Raceway and Casino
Address: 18500 S Dupont Hwy, Harrington, DE 19952
Phone: (302) 398-4920
Distance from Philadelphia:99 miles
Distance from Baltimore:87 miles
Distance from New York: 186 miles
Distance from Boston:409 miles
Harrington Raceway is located incentral Delaware, just an hour and a half from Baltimore and Philadelphia.
But you’ll be forgiven for driving right by the place without ever even noticing.
This casino is affixed to a small harness racing track, and the entire grounds was built out in the middle of nowhere.
The casino building’s exterior resembles that of non-denominational church, and not much adorns it to suggest gambling and entertainment is afoot. It’s an interesting design choice to say the least, and things don’t exactly improve when you head inside.
If you’ve ever been to the old Downtown district in Las Vegas – home of “fabulous” Fremont Street – then you know what to expect at Harrington Raceway. Rundown slot machines, aging décor, and a generally sullen scene are the defining features of this casino floor.
Fortunately for bettors, the sportsbook area does offer a bit of improvement – but just barely. Things fell nicer in there, but the setup of personal cubicles with attached TV monitors – typical for racebooks – isn’t exactly inviting. The projector screens overhead are large and bright though, so I’ll give them that much.
Interestingly enough, Harrington Raceway’s chief executive officer Patti Key has yet to comment publicly on the legalization of sports betting. Whether that speaks to a companywide philosophy emphasizing horse racing over the sportsbook isn’t for me to say – but Key remaining tight-lipped is pretty interesting.
Because of the track’s status as a serious harness racing facility, the sportsbook is usually crowded ahead of scheduled start times. If you’re there for sports only, be sure to grab a copy of the daily racing form to see when the lines will start stacking up.
A nice byproduct of the venue’s serious approach to horse racing is that the staff are prepared and ready to roll. I had to correct a few ticket writers from time to time at the other two sportsbooks, but the folks at Harrington batted 1.000 in terms of accuracy.
Overall, the experience surpassed what I would’ve expected when I first saw the building, which is probably why they say to never judge a book by it’s cover.
Depending on where you call home, one of the three venues listed above will be the most convenient based solely on proximity. That’s probably reason enough to choose a favorite, but because Delaware is a small state, you can hit all three within a weekend to see them up close and personal.
In terms of my own tour of the state’s sportsbooks, I preferred Delaware Park, Harrington Raceway, and Dover Downs in that order.
Delaware Park benefits from the enthusiasm of its leadership, as Fasy brings a genuine interest in the sports betting industry to the table. His staff are genuinely eager to help new bettors learn the ropes, and that goes a long way in my book. When the first online sportsbooks go live in the First State, I’ll bet my bottom Delaware Park is running the show.
Harrington Raceway may not be much to look at, but the venue knows how to run a racebook. The staff can answer questions and guide you through the process with ease. Whether that success extends to sports betting remains to be seen, but I have a feeling serious bettors will call this place home.
As for Dover Downs, my feelings on the situation are simple – if the people in charge don’t appreciate sports betting, they won’t appreciate sports bettors either. Until I hear word of a change in tone coming down the chain of command, I just wouldn’t expect the mistakes and malaise here to be resolved anytime soon.
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