08/12/2009 11:00PM

Brandywine back in Delaware


Delaware is set to begin accepting sports wagers on Sept. 1, just in time for the football season, and the bets will be handled by a Las Vegas company.

Brandywine Bookmaking LLC, which runs a dozen sports books in Nevada, teamed with Scientific Games to win the six-year contract to set the odds and manage the risk for Delaware's eagerly anticipated (and controversial) sports lottery.

But despite basing operations all the way across the country, the company has Delaware roots as well. Joe Asher, Brandywine's 41-year-old founder, president and CEO, grew up in Delaware and went to the Brandywine Raceway harness track with his father, and that's where he got his first job at age 16. The track closed in 1989, and when Asher left his previous job as an executive at Cantor Gaming in 2007 to return to his horse racing and sports roots, he decided to resurrect the Brandywine name.

And now he returns it to Delaware, which ran a failed sports lottery in 1976.

But that attempt allowed it to be one of only four states - Nevada, Oregon, and Montana being the others - grandfathered in when the federal government passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992. That allowed Delaware to legalize sports betting.

"This obviously is a very big opportunity since this is the only legal sports lottery east of the Rocky Mountains," said Asher. "Winning this contract also validates the quality of the product we put out, the result of the hard work since we started in Nevada."

That is a relatively short history because Brandywine Bookmaking LLC only started running race and sports books in the Silver State under the Lucky's name in July 2008. The company manages the books for smaller casinos that don't have the staff or the willingness to handle their own pools, similar to the Leroy's network of operations. After starting with the Red Lion and High Desert casinos in Elko, Nev., Brandywine added the Grand Sierra in Reno and the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas and is scheduled to open its 12th Nevada book at the Pioneer Hotel and Gambling Hall in Laughlin next Friday, pending approval from the state's gaming commission.

Scientific Games will provide the network of lottery sports wagering terminals at the three racinos in the state: Delaware Park near Wilmington, Dover Downs in Dover, and Harrington Raceway in Harrington.

Unlike in Nevada, bettors in Delaware won't be able to shop around at the different books. All of them will have the same odds. However, Asher said he expects everyone will be pleased with the menu.

"We intend to offer a wide variety of bets, just like our books in Nevada," he said. Lucky's has earned a reputation of creative prop bets in its short history.

One obstacle toward that goal was cleared recently.

Last month, the NFL, joined by the NBA, NHL, and the NCAA, tried to stop Delaware from taking single-game wagers (something the leagues say threatens the integrity of their games). After losing their original request, the leagues filed for an injunction to keep the state from taking those wagers until the full case was heard. But on Wednesday, Chief District Judge Gregory Sleet set the trial for Dec. 7 and denied the request, ruling that the leagues

didn't prove that they would suffer irreparable harm and that they also failed to prove that Delaware

wouldn't be harmed by the injunction since it was counting on the tax revenue. Delaware estimates it will earn $17 million for the state's coffers in the current fiscal year.

The leagues' case argues that Delaware previously allowed only parlays - which involve a higher element of luck - and shouldn't be able to add single-game wagering. The leagues also argue that single-game wagering is more susceptible to game-fixing.

"We're not involved in the legal process and will do what the state asks us to provide," Asher said.

Delaware should make the same argument that Nevada did in 2001 when fighting legislation that sought to ban college sports betting: the legal sports books, which are highly regulated, serve as watchdogs for the sports. The last thing a bookmaker wants is a fixed game because they're the ones with money at risk.

Delaware, the nation's first state but one of the smallest with a population of just 850,000, is counting on out-of-state visitors to make this venture a success. The racinos are within a two-hour drive of the major cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., which combine for a population of 30 million.