DOVER, Del. -- The Delaware Supreme Court has ruled that a
law allowing sports betting does not conflict with the state
constitution, paving the way for Delaware to become the only state
east of the Rocky Mountains to allow wagering on the outcome of
In a 22-page ruling dated Wednesday, the court said the state
constitution permits lotteries that have an element of skill, as
long as chance is the predominant factor in winning or losing. The
opinion comes in response to Gov. Jack Markell's request for the
court's views on a law he signed earlier this month authorizing a
sports betting lottery.
"I am very pleased with the Supreme Court's decision," Markell said in a statement. "This decision resolves the legal issues that have been
presented and provides a solid legal framework for our sports
Markell is relying on the lottery to help overcome
a projected revenue shortfall of more than $600 million for the
upcoming fiscal year.
The court's ruling could lead to a legal challenge by
professional sports leagues, which claim that sports betting would
tarnish the image of athletics and lure young people into gambling.
Kenneth Nachbar, an attorney who represented the NFL in oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week, did
not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday.
As envisioned by Markell, the sports lottery would allow
straight bets on the outcome of athletic events, using a point
spread or money line to ensure roughly equal amounts of wagers on
each side; over/under betting on the total score of a game; and
parlay bets in which players must select two or more elements, such
as the winner of two or games or two or more over/under bets.
Participants wouldn't be allowed to wager on games involving
college, amateur or Delaware-based professional teams.
The state is seeking proposals from potential vendors to oversee
the lottery and working on the rules and regulations. Officials
hope to have sports betting in place for the start of this year's
NFL regular season in September.
Because of a brief, failed experiment with a sports lottery in
the 1970s, Delaware is one of only four states grandfathered under
a 1992 federal law that bans sports gambling. The other states are
Nevada, Montana and Oregon.
A key issue addressed by the justices in their ruling was
whether lotteries under the state constitution must be games of
pure chance, or predominantly chance. Although the state constitution
does not define the term "lottery," the court turned to previous
rulings for guidance.
The justices noted that in a 1977 ruling in the NFL's challenge
of Delaware's first sports lottery, a federal judge concluded that
lotteries need not be matters of pure chance, and "an element of
calculation or even of certainty" could be involved, as long as
chance was the dominant or controlling factor.
Lawrence Ashby, an attorney directed by the court to argue
against the legality of sports betting, argued last week that skill
is an essential element of sports betting because oddsmakers
continually revise betting lines to take into account changing
circumstances and to attract more gamblers.
The justices also said that the proposed sports lottery
satisfies the constitutional requirement that lotteries be under
state control, even though the state would hire a licensed
bookmaker who may not be a state employee.