SBD/Issue 235/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Court Rules Delaware Single-Game Betting Violates Federal Law

Delaware Gov. Markell Surprised,
Disappointed By Monday's Ruling
The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia yesterday ruled that Delaware "would be violating a federal law if it proceeds" with a plan to offer single-game sports betting, according to O'Sullivan & Barrish of the Wilmington NEWS JOURNAL. Delaware's three racetrack casinos had been "working to open sports books" on September 1, but yesterday's ruling "dealt what appears to be a knockout punch" to the effort. The appeals court was "expected to focus on the NFL's request for a preliminary injunction, denied earlier this month in District Court," which would have prevented the state from "launching single-game sports betting until the matter could be decided in a federal lawsuit set for trial in December." But the three-judge panel yesterday "stunned the state's attorneys by going straight to the core of the case, ruling Delaware's plan 'violates the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.'" The judges said that because the parties "did not dispute any facts" in the case, it was a "simple matter of law they could rule on immediately." The ruling "seemed to be a complete victory for college and pro sports." Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said that he was "surprised by Monday's ruling." Markell: "We're disappointed and we're going to review our legal options, but the bottom line is we can offer the parlay betting on professional football when the season starts." Circuit Judge Theodore McKee said that a "full opinion would be issued in the coming days that will explain the court's rationale for finding Delaware's sports betting plan illegal," and the opinion also is "expected to make clear what will happen in the federal court case scheduled for trial." Markell indicated that "no decision had been made to appeal or try to gain the ability to conduct sports betting by joining a lawsuit by New Jersey officials arguing the sports protection act violates federal commerce laws" (Wilmington NEWS JOURNAL, 8/25).

APPEAL UNDECIDED, BUT COULD BE TOUGH: The state has not yet decided on an appeal, but one law expert indicated that "getting an appeal would be hard because the court was not split on the decision" (WASHINGTONTIMES.com, 8/24). Widener Univ. law professor Lawrence Hamermesh indicated that Delaware can "appeal to the full Third Circuit Court or to the Supreme Court," but either approach "would likely fail because the panel's ruling was unanimous." Hamermesh: "If I were in the state's position, I would be looking around for another way to raise revenue" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 8/25). Lawyers claim that the ruling was "unusual because appellate courts tend to give deference to lower courts." Lawyers added that yesterday's ruling is the "first interpretation of a court of how broad or narrow the exemptions to the federal sports protection law are" (Wilmington NEWS JOURNAL, 8/25). Widener Univ. law professor Michael Goldberg: "It's fairly unusual for an appeals court to do this. A ruling like this often ends the case" (USA TODAY, 8/25).

Dover Downs, Harrington Raceway & Casino
Each Spending $5M Constructing Sports Books
PICKING UP THE PIECES: In Delaware, Finney & Gibson report the state's three casinos said that they will "continue building sports betting parlors because they plan to offer some kind of sports betting in less than a week." Court documents show that Harrington Raceway & Casino (HRC) and Dover Downs each are spending $5M for "construction of their respective sports books," while Delaware Park is investing $1M. The court yesterday ruled that Delaware still can "offer parlay bets on NFL games, as it did in 1976," but HRC CEO Patricia Key said that "offering only NFL parlay bets would be 'devastating.'" Finney & Gibson note that the track "already started advertising the addition of sports betting," and Delaware Park COO Andrew Gentile said, "I guess we'll have to be changing some of our billboards" (Wilmington NEWS JOURNAL, 8/25).

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