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Court: Del. sports gambling violates fed. law

PHILADELPHIA (BP)–An appeals court has ruled that Delaware’s plan for Las Vegas-style single game sports betting violates the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act, a federal statute prohibiting sports gambling.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled Aug. 24 that the sports lottery, which Delaware had planned to start Sept. 1, is not covered by an exemption the state received when the ban was enacted in 1992.

Along with Nevada, Montana and Oregon, Delaware was grandfathered in after the ban because it already had a form of sports betting. But the type of gambling Delaware started in 1976 — which later failed — only offered parlay bets on the results of three or more NFL games. The new plan would have allowed betting on single games and on sports other than professional football.

“A ruling like this often ends the case,” Michael Goldberg, a law professor in Wilmington, Del., told USA Today.

Delaware’s Democratic governor, Jack Markell, proposed the expanded gambling to help erase a budget deficit, and in May Delaware’s Supreme Court ruled that sports betting plan did not conflict with the state constitution as long as chance is the predominant factor in winning or losing. But professional sports leagues said skill would outweigh the element of chance in single-game betting, and such wagering would violate the state constitution.

The NBA, NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA contended that widespread legalized gambling would threaten the integrity of their sports by creating incentives for cheating and game-fixing, and they asked federal District Judge Gregory Sleet to intervene in the Delaware case.

Sleet set a Dec. 7 trial date and refused to grant a preliminary injunction. An injunction, he said, was not warranted in the case because the leagues had not convinced him that they would suffer irreparable harm without one or that the state would not be irreparably harmed by an injunction.

On Aug. 12, the leagues asked the 3rd Circuit to overturn the district judge’s ruling, and after hearing arguments from both sides for nearly two hours Monday, a three-judge panel sided with the sports leagues. In a one-page ruling, the court said there was no need to address the issue of irreparable harm.

“Obviously, I am disappointed with the court’s decision and will be meeting with the state’s attorneys to evaluate our legal options,” Markell said in a statement, referring to the possibility of appealing to the entire 3rd Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kenneth Nachbar, an attorney for the sports leagues, said he “couldn’t be happier” with the ruling.

“I think when Congress enacted PASPA they understood that there is a certain amount of sports betting but that sports betting shouldn’t be expanded,” Nachbar said. “It shouldn’t be expanded to the East Coast. It shouldn’t be expanded beyond where it is conducted now. And it won’t be as a result of this ruling.”

Parlay betting usually is wagering on two or more games, and the bettor must be correct on every game to win. Nevada remains the only state to allow betting on individual games, which is more appealing to gamblers because of the higher probability of winning.

Delaware’s casinos have spent about $12 million preparing for the launch of sports betting, which the governor hoped would bring in $53 million during the first year. The state, facing an $800 million budget shortfall, also has spent tens of thousands of dollars on outside lawyers in an attempt to push the plan through, USA Today said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Aug. 26 that Delaware officials and casino operators are proceeding with plans to begin parlay betting on NFL games following the court’s ruling.

“Come next month, Delaware will have the only sports lottery east of the Mississippi,” a spokesman for Markell said. “The exact form it will take is something that the State Lottery Office is working on now.”

Ed Sutor, chief executive officer of Dover Downs, said the ruling was “a complete shocker,” something he and fellow casino operators did not expect.

Patricia Key, president of Harrington Raceway, told USA Today her casino would move forward without the single-game bets.

“I don’t think we have any other choice given the investment we’ve made,” she said.

In July, several congressmen including Rep. Heath Shuler, D.-N.C., a former University of Tennessee and NFL quarterback, urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to monitor closely the situation in Delaware to ensure the state’s compliance with the federal ban.

In addition to Delaware, New Jersey also is facing a budget shortfall and hopes to legalize in-casino sports betting. That state already offers betting on horse racing as well as lotteries, slot machines and Atlantic City table games. New Jersey, which is not exempt from the federal ban on sports betting, filed a lawsuit in March challenging the constitutionality of the law.

The state senator who filed the lawsuit told The Inquirer that Delaware’s plight does not affect New Jersey because the two cases were argued on different grounds.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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