WILMINGTON, DE -- The announcement came, sort of out of nowhere, across the PA system inside the Delaware Park Casino at 1:20 pm.
Not that the masses assembled, probably a few hundred gambling diehards, didn't know precisely why they were there – for the opening of the full-blown sports book at all three casinos in this state Tuesday afternoon – but seeing the massive boards listing odds for everything from World Cup outcomes to Week 1 lines for the NFL season was a bit jarring. And hearing this countdown of sorts, not quite Michael Buffer-esque but certainly high on the cheese-factor spectrum, made it clear that the Vegas stranglehold on legalized sports betting in this country was over.
"T-minus 10 minutes to get those bets down," came one of several announcements leading up the full-scale opening of wagering in Delaware, a state that previously allowed parlay betting in these casinos but was now suddenly taking action on Super Bowl odds, individual basketball and hockey games, MLS -- you name it, with more prop bets and more exotic wagering still to come.
The vast parking lots at this casino and race track were packed 15-20 rows deep by 1 p.m., and what would normally be a sleepy, empty Tuesday certainly had a unique buzz. Philadelphia sports talk radio station WIP had a radio-row style set-up broadcasting live from the casino. Several local television stations in the South Jersey/Philly market were represented, and there was a palpable buzz in the building as a representative for something called SportsGarten.com (a website that hasn't launched yet but promises to offer "your one stop shop for credible sports intelligence") placed the first ever wager of its kind at the book.
"This is the first ticket ever outside of Nevada," he said, waving the tiny printout over his head like he had already cashed his ticket as camera bulbs flashed and the news crews drew closer. It was a $1,000 bet on the Yankees to win the World Series at 5-to-1 odds. "I feel very good about it," he opined.
As for pomp and circumstance at this particular dawning of a new gambling era goes, that was about it, though an hour south of here, Delaware Governor John Carney madeat Dover Downs, taking the Phillies to upset the Cubs at Wrigley Field Tuesday night.
No one knows exactly where all of this is going just yet, and how the winners and losers will shake out among the various parties who stand to potentially profit – casinos, online sports books, state coffers, professional sports leagues -- following the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 in May. But one thing all could agree on was that gambling was here to stay, and that whatever advantages the casinos in this tiny stare gained by being first to the market will be mitigated by what is sure to be a sweeping tide from nearby states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland (from where I drove, less than an hour in all) and then on and on as this process becomes streamlined and sports gambling more mainstreamed. The demand for action will be sated across many states and numerous platforms (online, in-state gambling is expected in Delaware by Week 1 of the NFL season), with execs at the Delaware casinos unsure how big their margins will be.
"It took a lot of hype and nine years (of court battles) to get here, but it's finally here and the crowd was pretty excited," said William Fasy, the president of Delaware Park. "This is a down time for wagering -- you call it the lounges in Las Vegas this time of year -- but there were some pumped-up reporters here, for sure ...
"We have the whole pie to ourselves right now in this state, then next week there is going to be half a pie (as New Jersey and other states come aboard), and it's just going to keep getting sliced up. I really don't see that this is going to be that huge for us; this might turn out to be the high volume that we had today, OK. Once the actual pie starts getting cut up, I bet we have -- for the whole state -- less than 10 percent."
Still, for a Tuesday in early June, this was a close to hopping as anyone could have expected. Once that ceremonial bet was out of the way, a line at least 50 deep quickly formed.
Many of the bettors had already been in the sports book for upwards of an hour, amazed at the plethora of options available. "Look at this man, can you believe this?" said a regular here who only wanted to go by Scott, turning to me to initiate the small talk as we both stared slack-jawed at the wall of odds. "I never thought I would see this day."
For Scott, this was something like Christmas, in, well, not quite July. He was upset that there was no golf to bet on, and he seemed intent on getting some action on MLS games even though "I don't know a damn thing about professional soccer," as he put it. He said he was here all the time before to make parlay bets but hadn't seen this many new faces before.
A young guy decked out in Eagles gear made what appeared to be the second-ever wager here, photographing his ticket repeatedly and staring at it like it bore some mystical powers. He bet on the hometown Eagles, but, after exchanging pleasantries decided he best not give his name or say much more.
"I'm supposed to be at work right now," he said.
Others were eager and happy to talk. Raji Thomas works nearby and would make a wager to two on the parlays during his work break.
"During the week whenever I come over for a break it's usually pretty empty," said Raji Thomas, who said he this Delaware Park three or four times a year. "Usually I would just bet a three-team teaser. To see this big board here now, wow, this is pretty cool. I'm glad I decided to come out here."
Vince Kordic drove almost 2 1/2 hours from Hagerstown, Maryland to be at the opening of the sports book. Donning an Argentina jersey, he was amped to make some early World Cup wagers, and couldn't help but get in on some Week 1 NFL action as well. There were some kinks to work out with the tellers, and a few patrons were upset that they could not make their wagers on over/under win totals for the 2018 NFL season yet (those should be live by the weekend, according to the casino), but the overall experience appeared quite enjoyable for most I encountered.
"I'm originally from Ohio, and this was a pipe dream in Ohio," Kordic told me. "And then I moved to Maryland for work, and there were rumblings it could happen there, and slowly but surely it ended up being a thing. I Google-mapped it, and I lived 2 hours, 12 minutes from here, that's why I ended up at this casino. I would have drove over three hours to the other race track in Dover if I had to.
"I would have gone wherever I had to today. It was automatic. And I specifically had this off day scheduled for my work. Thursday I'm off, and there's day baseball, so yeah Thursday Ill be back. I'm running with the opportunity to say the least ... For me it's a matter of shopping here, versus what odds you can find online."
While the common perception would be that the NFL, as the dominant sport in this country, would be where the money is, Fasy rebuffed that notion. He expects the biggest crowds for college football and the NCAA basketball tournament, and was actually most excited about the prospects for the Word Cup, even with the USA not qualifying, which he hopes will bring in a non-traditional crowd.
Fasy seemed skeptical about the likelihood of the NFL and other pro sports leagues getting "an integrity tax" of some sort implemented, or at least, believing his cut will already be pinched, is obviously against the notion (setting up an interesting showdown perhaps between the lobbyist for the gaming industry vs. those for the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL, et al).
"The day that Nevada gives them an integrity fee I'll go to the legislature and say, 'I think you ought to consider it,'" he offered. "But the odds of that are slim to none, and slim left town."
For the casinos, the money will be in selling additional hot dogs and beers and pizza, according to Fasy, to those they can attract here, though again he figures that percentage of the wagering public will dwindle as this spreads state-to-state. "We lost money on parlays; the taxes are too high and I don't think that will change now," he said. The expectation is half of all bets at least will ultimately be made online, and there remains competition, still, from the local bookie, who can offer action on credit (you pay up front here) and can be more forgiving with the odds as well.
While Fasy may have been less than enthusiastic about what this day may mean for the casino and the state of Delaware long-term, for the patrons it was a cause of celebration. Some stuck around into the afternoon waiting to watch some of the games they had wagered on to begin on the big screens adjacent to the odds boards. But you couldn't help but notice that less than an hour after that big "T-minus" announcement, the sprawling room was quiet, and relatively barren.
"What is it, 2:30, and the line is gone, OK," Fasy said. "It's not as big a you think. Now, football is going to be big and the parlays were huge on Sundays and we'd have a line all the way back here. But they made their wager and as soon as the games started, everybody left."
I shared my favorite Week 1 picks (obviously subject to change as the season draws near) earlier in the week, which