AP News

Delaware House approves gambling expansion

DOVER, Del. (AP) — The state House on Tuesday approved a bill authorizing online betting in Delaware and more venues for sports wagering and other gambling.

In addition to online slots and table games, the proposal by Gov. Jack Markell expands keno beyond Delaware's three existing casinos to at least 100 sites.

The bill, which was approved on 29-to-8 vote and now goes to the Senate, also authorizes betting on NFL games in at least 20 more sites other than the casinos.

Administration officials say revenue generated from the expanded gambling opportunities would allow them to eliminate $4 million in slot machine fees paid by the casinos and cut their annual table game fees from $6.75 million to $3 million.

The casinos would pledge in return to spend an amount equal to those cuts on traditional business expenses such as marketing, capital improvements and debt reduction.

Rep. John Viola, D-Newark, chief House sponsor of the bill, said it represents "the next logical step" in the evolution of Delaware's gambling industry.

Viola noted that other states are looking to implement online gambling in the wake of a U.S. Justice Department determination late last year that federal law does not preclude in-state betting online, as long as it does not involve gambling on sports.

Ed Sutor, CEO of Dover Downs Inc., said the proposed changes could help prop up Delaware's gambling industry, which has seen increased competition from neighboring states in recent years. But Sutor said he doesn't expect that the bill will generate a lot of new jobs.

"The industry is taking a licking right now with the economy, with the additional competition," he said. "I would say this is not a jobs generator, this is a jobs preserver."

House members passed the bill after adding an amendment allocating a share of the revenue from the additional sports lottery sites to harness racing purses at the state's three racetrack casinos. A similar provision for thoroughbred racing purses already had been inserted into the bill at the request of the thoroughbred industry, administration officials said.

But the harness racing industry failed in a bid to boost its share of online table game proceeds, after player winnings and administrative and vendor costs are deducted, from 4.5 percent to almost 12 percent.

The amendment approved by the House also requires that anyone playing lottery games online buy a prepaid card from an existing lottery site, such as a convenience store. Administration officials said the change was designed to accommodate the interests of such retailers by ensuring continued foot traffic and additional marketing opportunities.

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