08/25/2009 12:00AM

Court denies sports bets in Delaware

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A federal appeals court in Philadelphia has ruled that Delaware racetracks cannot offer betting on single sports games because it would violate a federal ban on sports wagering.

The court's ruling favored a coalition of professional and collegiate sports organizations that were seeking to prevent the racetracks from offering betting on games starting Sept. 1. The sports organizations - most notably the National Football League, whose regular season starts in just over two weeks - claimed that racetracks would violate a 1992 federal ban on sports betting if they offered bets on individual games.

Attorneys for the state of Delaware argued that the state was exempt from the ban because it briefly ran a lottery in 1976 that was tied to the results of several sports games, citing language in the federal ban that allowed states to continue to offer bets that the state had offered in the past. After the Monday ruling, attorneys for the state said that the ruling would still allow tracks to offers parlay bets on games, because the 1976 lottery game was consistent with a parlay-type bet.

In addition to allowing Delaware's racetracks to offer sports betting, the legislation also authorized table games at Delaware's racetracks and increased the state's share of the revenue from racetrack slot machines from 37 percent to 43.5 percent, with the increase coming directly from the racing industry's share. Slot-machine subsidies are a significant source of purse revenue at Delaware, totaling $26 million last year.

Scott Peck, the president of the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said that horsemen were disappointed in the ruling because betting on individual games was expected to make up the vast majority of bets on sporting contests. By statute, horsemen would get 9.6 percent of the revenue that Delaware Park retains from sports betting.

"It's something we were counting on to make up for some of the money we were going to lose on the slots side," Peck said. "We didn't really know how much it might come out to be, and maybe it wasn't going to be as much, but 9.6 percent of a little is still a lot better than no percent of nothing."

Officials at Delaware Park and the state's two harness tracks had argued before the bill passed that the legalization of sports betting would not create enough new revenue to make up for the reduction in their share of casino revenue. Officials of Delaware Park did not immediately return phone calls on Tuesday.