Court allows betting on NFL only

Updated: August 31, 2009, 3:05 PM ET
Reuters

WILMINGTON, Del. -- Delaware's plans to allow betting on sports was drastically pared back by a federal court on Monday, a day before the state was going to expand gambling as a way to balance its budget.

An order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit last week said that Delaware's plan to allow point-spread bets on individual games in all major sports violated federal law. Monday's opinion makes clear the state would still be able to offer parlay bets, which depend on the outcome of several matches, on National League Football games.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed the betting law in May, saying at the time it would bring in $50 million and help close the state's budget shortfall, which for fiscal 2010 has been estimated at $800 million.

The U.S. professional leagues for baseball, basketball, football and hockey filed suit to block the state's plan, arguing it violated federal law and that it might taint their sports with accusations of cheating.

The NCAA also joined the complaint by the leagues.

A 1992 federal law known as PASPA prohibits betting on sports, although that law grandfathered in Delaware, Oregon, Montana and Nevada and allowed them to offer such wagering if it was limited to plans the states had operated between 1976 and 1990.

Delaware offered parlay bets on NFL games for a few months in 1976. The court opinion agreed with the leagues that Delaware was generally limited to what it offered in 1976, when it allowed gamblers to bet on winners of several NFL games.

"Any effort by Delaware to allow wagering on athletic contests involving sports beyond the NFL would violate PASPA," according to the opinion, written by Judge Thomas Hardiman.

"Delaware may, however, institute multi-game [parlay] betting on at least three NFL games, because such betting is consistent with the scheme to the extent it was conducted in 1976," said the opinion.

The state had planned to offer sports betting from three racetrack casinos, and it expected to benefit from added tourism.

"While we are disappointed the decision does not provide the flexibility we had hoped for, Delaware is still the only state east of the Rocky Mountains that can offer a legal sports lottery on NFL football," Markell said in a statement.

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