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For Delaware, NFL Gambling a Sure Bet

Sep 21, 2009 – 8:00 PM
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David Steele

David Steele %BloggerTitle%

Delaware nfl gamblingWILMINGTON, Del. -- There are plenty of reasons why Sunday afternoon, on the second weekend of the NFL season and with no thoroughbred racing scheduled, license plates from at least seven states and the District of Columbia were spotted in the parking lot of Delaware Park. Simulcasting was still going on, and the slots floor was still busy -- and, besides, people might just be slow in updating their car registrations.

But that wouldn't explain, for example, why one cream-colored Cadillac with Florida plates sported four Miami Dolphins flags. Or why many of the cars were expelling, or re-admitting, customers wearing NFL jerseys, caps, T-shirts and other paraphernalia, and carrying long white, beige or yellow strips of paper. Or, most transparently, why the infield videoboard was showing one of the network pre-game shows.

Football may not have taken over the biggest of the three tracks in the state now taking NFL bets, but it has staked its claim and apparently won't let go any time soon, at least without the interruption of the courts.

"It's awesome,'' exclaimed Michael Galvin of Wilmington, an exercise rider at the track who originally hails from Tampa -- thus, the Derrick Brooks Buccaneers jersey he wore. Delaware Park's meet ends in late October, and after two weeks of betting NFL games at the new sports book at his current home, Galvin said he'll miss doing it when he shifts his work to Tampa Bay Downs for the winter.

"Oh yeah, I'd love it,'' he said of the idea of his home state taking NFL bets like Delaware now does.

Of course, Delaware and Nevada still stand alone in taking sports bets of any kind, and Delaware is still only the NFL and, thanks to a federal court ruling late last month, only in parlays of three or more games. But an appeal by the state to the full 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals last week leaves the door open for Delaware to be granted its wish: to handle single-game betting, something the NFL, as well as all the other major pro leagues and the NCAA, are fighting diligently.

Ultimately, said Delaware Park Chief Operating Officer Andrew Gentile, if full betting is allowed on all sports, including all variations, "the potential, in my opinion, is unlimited. People have come up to me and said, 'If you had over-under, I'd be in here.' "

"We really like what Delaware's doing here, and we're glad they're doing it."
-- Larry Lambert
Even with those relative handicaps, the traffic into the track was steady in the hour before the 1 PM ET kickoff, with bettors coming from all the nearby states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, as well as areas within a few hours' driving distance, like Washington, D.C. and Virginia. Longer drives were suggested by plates from Massachusetts, North Carolina and, again, Florida.

The games were shown on two of the three levels of the clubhouse at Delaware Park, and both floors were crowded. Capacity is between 5,000 and 6,000, Gentile said, and while he did not have official attendance from the first week available, he believed that the crowd coming in to bet, and also to stay and watch, was larger Sunday. He estimated that the top floor, which faces the track and the grandstand -- featuring three video walls with a total of 32 wide screens -- had between double and triple last week's crowd. On the main floor downstairs, whose 81 screens run the length of the wall and were more than half devoted to NFL games with the rest on racing simulcasts, the seating areas were more full than before.

The football bettors stuck out like logo-draped sore thumbs: often half the age of the horse bettors, if not more, and much more raucous -- especially in reaction to the Eagles-Saints game. The effect was that of a huge sports bar, complete with beer promoters circulating about with contests and prizes, just with machines and bet-takers around the edges.

"We really like what Delaware's doing here, and we're glad they're doing it,'' said Larry Lambert of nearby Claymont, who was there with friend Rich Hoff playing for the first time at the track. "It's 15 minutes away; we can come here and stick around, or we can make our bets and head back -- what's not to like?''

Jamal Whittlesey of New Castle, less than 10 minutes from Delaware Park, was betting in a sports book for the first time, sticking to the $2 minimum: "I just wanted to see what my odds were of winning here, testing my skills ... So far, so good. I'll be coming back through here. It's right here.''

Still, others with convenient commutes were doing U-turns in the sports book -- driving in, placing their bets, and heading home or to wherever they can watch a game or games, including many who headed north to the Eagles' home opener.

"It's about an hour's drive, on a pleasant day, so why not?'' said Gordon Poland, who came in from the suburbs north of Baltimore with a friend, David Firestone, who wore a Ray Lewis Ravens' jersey. Poland and Firestone both figured that the restriction to only parlays would hold the crowds down -- but also wondered aloud when or if Maryland would move in this direction. Delaware has drawn gamblers from that state for years, solely for slots, as Maryland voters only approved them last November and they have yet to be put in place there.

Gentile believes that as fans become more familiar with how things work, more will stay for the full Sunday slate of games and, of course, spend more money at the track and, possibly, at the slots and horse-betting windows. He tossed out the possibility of giving the football bettors $2 vouchers for the races, to help bring the average age of the racing audience down from 50-plus.

The traffic between Thursday, when the cards arrive at the track, and kickoff of Sunday's games will also settle into a familiar pattern, Gentile expects. Noontime on Thursdays and Fridays are showing a lunchtime business-type crowd, he said ("You typically don't see suits and ties in here''), and Saturdays are bringing couples, with the men heading to do their NFL bets and the women hitting the slots.

The state announced that more than 145,000 bets were placed in Week 1, generating $257,870. State officials were pleased, considering that the decision of the three-judge panel of the federal circuit court limiting bets to parlays came down less than three weeks before the regular season began.

Week 2 numbers will not be known until the end of this week. But the track and its new attraction definitely has earned repeat customers. Galvin, the exercise rider with the Bucs jersey, promised to be back every Sunday while racing is still in session there.

"I mean, look at this,'' he said, tilting his head toward the long wall of screens flashing with NFL action. "This is a blast.''

(Editor's Note: The above photo was taken at Dover Downs casino in Dover, Del., not at Delaware Park in Wilmington, Del.)
Filed under: Sports
Tagged: gambling, nfl