Court Rejects Appeal on Delaware Sports Bets

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal in which Delaware sought to expand its sports betting lottery beyond professional football.

The justices denied Delaware’s petition for judicial review without comment May 3, leaving in place a ruling by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that limits sports betting in Delaware to multi-game, or parlay, bets on National Football League games.

The appeals court heard arguments last August on a request by the NFL and other sports leagues for an injunction to prevent Delaware from starting sports betting with the launch of the NFL season. But instead of ruling on the injunction, the appeals court turned directly to the leagues’ claim that Delaware’s proposal to allow single-game bets on a variety of professional and collegiate sports would violate a 1992 federal ban on sports wagering.

The court declared that the state’s sports betting lottery had to be similar to the betting scheme used in a failed 1976 NFL lottery that allowed Delaware to be one of only four states to receive grandfathered exemptions from the federal ban.

The ruling stunned attorneys for the state, who were not given the opportunity to defend the merits of the sports betting proposal. Gov. Jack Markell subsequently approved an appeal to the Supreme Court that was funded by Delaware’s three racetrack casinos—Delaware Park, Harrington Raceway & Casino, and Dover Downs—that have exclusive rights to offer sports betting.

“The state was hoping to have its day in court for our arguments to be fully heard, but we will not get that chance,” Markell said in a prepared statement. “The result is unfortunate but not surprising, since only a small fraction of appeals to the Supreme Court are actually heard.”

Dover Downs president and chief executive officer Ed Sutor said he was disappointed by the court’s decision, saying there was a legitimate argument for allowing wagers on sports than professional football.

“That’s the reason we agreed to pay for the appeals process,” he said. “Now, we’re going to do the best we can with what we have, which is parlay betting.”

Paul Clement, an attorney representing the sports leagues, said he was gratified by the decision.

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