Sports betting contribution to purses slowly grows in Delaware

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Dec. 22, 2018

Revenue from sports betting at Delaware Park from early June through the end of November generated more than $456,000 for the Thoroughbred purse account, according to the latest statistics from the Delaware Lottery.

In addition, Thoroughbred purses earned a sizable chunk of the more than $451,000 set aside for purses at the state’s three tracks from sports betting at 102 retail outlets around Delaware from August through November. Licensed restaurants and taverns can only offer parlay-card betting on NFL games, while the three tracks—Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway—have full sports betting as well as parlay-card betting, which started in Delaware in 2009.

Depending on how players fare with their sports bets in December, it appeared possible more than $700,000 could be raised for purses at Delaware Park alone from sports betting in 2018.

It’s far less than the $10.6 million generated for purses from video lottery terminals at Delaware Park from January through October, the last month available for review. But the share of sports betting net proceeds is the equivalent of four or five racing programs or enough for targeted purse increases. In comparison, a cut of revenue from table games from January through November generated $1.1 million for Thoroughbred purses.

The Delaware Lottery stats show the volatile nature of sports betting revenue—something racetrack officials warned of before the full expansion in June. Tracks and retail outlets keep roughly 30% of revenue from parlay-card bets, but the percentage is much lower for single-team wagers that are far more popular with players.

For instance, in September at Delaware Park, the amount played on sports was $11.57 million with net proceeds of $2.16 million. In October, handle totaled $10.61 million, but net proceeds plummeted to $318,561 because the players had a very successful month. In November, handle was $11.51 million and net proceeds rebounded a bit to $805,285.

September was by far the best month for the three tracks and the retail parlay-card outlets. Total net proceeds reached $5.97 million on $23.32 million in wagers.

The Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Delaware Park are finalizing a new contract, and it’s anticipated the 2019 schedule could include several more live racing days above the 81 run in each of the last four or five years.

As of now, Delaware is the only jurisdiction in which purses receive a specific legislated amount of revenue from sports bets. Thoroughbred purses earn 9.6% of net proceeds and Standardbred purses 10.2%. Legislation authorizing five years of purse supplements for New Jersey racing from state government ties receipt of the funds to racetracks and horsemen having an agreement on sports betting revenue but there is no specific percentage in the language.

In other nearby states with sports betting, Monmouth Park in New Jersey through November had produced $7.93 million in gross revenue from on-track sports betting and $2.2 million from mobile devices since the launch in June. Darby Development, which operates Monmouth on behalf of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, splits revenue 50-50 with its primary partner, William Hill, operator of the sports betting operation.

Monmouth officials have said revenue from sports betting will be used to bolster the racing product—through higher purses or added racing programs—and for capital improvements at the track. Monmouth has not yet officially released its 2019 racing schedule or purse structure.

Just north at Meadowlands, gross revenue from on-track bets totaled $12.5 million through November, with another $9.7 million from the mobile platform operated by FanDuel, its primary partner. Meadowlands recently announced a deal with the Standardbred Owners and Breeders of New Jersey whereby the purse account will earn at least $1 million a year over 10 years from sports betting revenue.

West Virginia racetrack casinos pay the state 10% of revenue from sports betting with no legislated provisions for contributions to purse accounts. From September through early December, West Virginia Lottery statistics show that Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races took $32.6 million in sports bets for total revenue of $4.05 million.

The state issues weekly reports on sports betting play, which for the most part had grown weekly at Charles Town from the launch through November. The high point so far was $3.1 million in bets for the final week in November.

Meanwhile, the Council of the District of Columbia voted to legalize sports betting operated by the D.C. Lottery—new competition for Charles Town and for Maryland, which has not yet passed sports betting legislation. Officials indicated sports betting could begin in the spring or summer of 2019 in the district through mobile devices and at brick-and-mortar facilities such as bars, restaurants and the city’s major league sports facilities.

(Delaware Park photo by Tom LaMarra)