Delaware Sports Betting Revenue Slide Shows Need For Mobile
Delaware, the first state outside of Nevada to take a legal single-game sports bet is now the first state to report its average monthly handle declined from 2018 to 2019. Unless Delaware changes its rules to permit online wagering, sports betting will remain a dwindling afterthought.
As New Jersey furthers itself as the most robust market on the East Coast and as neighboring Pennsylvania continues to grow its handle, those figures in Delaware are in jeopardy of a further decline.
As much as 85% of all bets placed in markets with mobile betting are done so online, a ratio that has only gone up as markets mature. Disappointing revenue reports such as Delaware’s show that states without online betting are not just hurting their future revenue potential, but could see existing totals decline, even as nearly every other market increases.
Seven states took sports bets in 2018, after the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban. Four (New Jersey, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island) saw their monthly average handles increase from last year compared to the year prior. Not coincidently, all four offered online sports bets in 2019 — and saw their figures spike even further once mobile wagering began.
Delaware and Mississippi, which likewise exclusively permits in-person bets within casinos, were the only two states to report revenue declines from 2018 to 2019 (the seventh state, New Mexico, doesn’t publicly release revenue totals). Ahead of the release of its December 2019 report, Mississippi at least saw month-over-month increases during football season, far and away the most bet-upon sports in America.
In Delaware, the revenue report shows that September handle fell from $14.4 million in 2018 to $10.2 million in 2019; October fell from $16.5 million to $10.8 million; November fell from $16.9 million to $10.3 million; and December fell from $16.1 million to $13.3 million.
This should be a warning sign to a new wave of states considering legislation in 2020.
Neighbors Increase Handle
It’s no coincidence that Delaware’s slide began after Pennsylvania’s market opened. Or that it accelerated after it began taking online wagers.
Pennsylvania sportsbooks took their first in-person sports bet in November 2018. That same month, Delaware, where the state lottery manages sports betting in conjunction with the three casinos, recorded nearly $17 million in wagers, a record handle.
That record remains.
Delaware handle decreased in most months since then, with an uptick only beginning during the 2019 football season. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania handle grew to about $60 million by July 2019, and that figure nearly doubled after online wagering began a month later. With eight digital operators Pennsylvania reached a record $316.2 million in handle in November 2019. Those figures should only increase as up to six more online operators could enter the market.
Combined with the New Jersey sportsbooks juggernaut, which averaged nearly $366 million in handle last year, Delaware bettors are facing far more options across state lines. The majority of Delawareans live in the upper third of the state, making a trip to either Pennsylvania or New Jersey to place an online sports bet far more convenient than a trip to Dover Downs, Harrington Raceway or even Delaware Park, which isn’t far from both northern neighbors.
Delaware’s $102.6 million in total 2019 handle generated only $12.5 million in revenue. Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania now regularly eclipse that revenue total every month. The first state to take a legal bet after the Supreme Court decision is becoming an afterthought not just on the national sports betting scene, but within its own region.
Delaware sports betting could continue to decline in 2020 — even before likely moves by more of its Mid-Atlantic neighbors.
Maryland, Virginia and D.C. Sports Betting Looms
Delaware sports bettors will likely continue crossing state lines to place mobile bets this year. They will soon have more options to do so.
Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland are all considering sports betting legislation, with D.C. and Virginia already passing laws to approve retail and online wagering. The district has already approved its sports betting legislation and should have mobile and retail wagering within the next few months. Virginia will need to pass its sports betting legislation again this year, but that seems like a formality.
Even more consequentially for Delaware, neighboring Maryland could pass a bill of its own.
Maryland debated sports betting legalization in 2018 as well as 2019 and will do so again in 2020. The first bill introduced in 2020 would only permit wagering at the state’s six licensed gaming facilities, but it seems likely other lawmakers will look to introduce competing online authorization or try to amend the existing proposal.
To see the importance of mobile betting, they need to look no further than Delaware.
Should Maryland, which shares more border mileage with Delaware than New Jersey and Pennsylvania combined, approve online wagering, the Delaware sports-betting market could plummet.
It remains to be seen if Maryland will be able to pass any sports gambling bill after legislation failed the two years prior. Maryland will likely also need a voter referendum before sports betting can pass into law.
Still, with D.C. and Virginia sports betting all but inevitable, Maryland seems like a good bet to approve sports wagering in 2020. Last year alone 12 states passed sports betting bills, eight of which included online authorization. Momentum is clearly in favor of further online expansion.
Meanwhile Delaware remains the cautionary tale for states nationwide that an exclusively brick-and-mortar markets will fall short of its revenue potential — and may even decrease as betting options around it become more readily available.
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