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Mobile sports betting launches in Delaware

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Rush Street Interactive Delaware sports betting Bet Rivers Sugarhouse Casino

Rush Street Interactive launched the first mobile sportsbook, BetRivers, in Delaware last week as it took over the state’s igaming contract. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER – Delaware quietly became the 29th state to allow mobile sports betting last week, as the state’s new vendor launched its BetRivers sportsbook for the state’s three casinos.

In August, the state lottery announced that it has selected Chicago-based Rush Street Interactive (RSI), which operates brands like BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse and RushBet, for its next so-called igaming contract, succeeding prior vendor 888. RSI will operate online gambling in Delaware for an initial term of five years, renewable for additional one-year terms for an additional five years.

The company already offered mobile and online operations in 15 U.S. states, including in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. RSI is a subsidiary of Rush Street Gaming, which also owns the Bet Rivers Casino Philadelphia near Penn’s Landing.

Notably, industry heavyweights FanDuel and DraftKings, who blanket airwaves with ads during major sporting events, did not submit bids on the Delaware contract.

The soft launch of the app was promoted on BetRivers’ social media channels, and on Jan. 3 the company and the lottery said the early days had proved successful.

“We are thrilled to begin this historic and much-anticipated launch of the new online sportsbook and casino with the Delaware Lottery and bring our award-winning product to Delaware,” said Richard Schwartz, CEO of RSI, said in a statement. “With our extensive offering of gaming content, wide range of deposit and withdrawal methods, real-time cash-out approvals, and best-in-class customer service, Delaware customers are going to love the convenience of wagering on their favorite sports, slots, and table games from anywhere in the state.”

The history

Delaware made history as the first state outside of Nevada to offer single-game sports wagering after the fall of the Professional & Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) in a 2018 Supreme Court ruling. It was able to make that history because for nearly a decade it had offered parlay bets on the NFL due to a grandfathering under PAPSA.

The Delaware Lottery, which regulates the state’s casinos, set up sportsbooks at the Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway casinos, drawing bettors from around the region to make their first legal wagers.

In the nearly five years since Gov. John Carney put down a successful $10 bet on the Phillies though, Delaware has quickly been outpaced to offer the most common and popular form of sports gambling: mobile sports gambling.

Just weeks after Delaware took the first single-game bet, New Jersey did the same and before the end of 2018, had launched online sportsbooks. In 2019, Pennsylvania followed suit on its own and in November 2022, Maryland essentially boxed in Delaware by launching its offering.

Today, it’s common for Delaware bettors who live near state borders to drive across the line to place bets from their phone – but RSI hopes to entice players to stay home.

The challenge

While gambling may be established simply through licensure and regulation of gambling companies, as some states have, Delaware is one of only three states where it operates under the state lottery. That seemingly insignificant detail is anything but, according to Delaware Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger, whose department oversees the state lottery and casinos.

Under Delaware’s Constitution and state statutes, the lottery is required to operate “in a manner which will produce the greatest income for the state.” Because of that requirement, finance and lottery leaders have been hesitant to wade into mobile betting which has typically produced a smaller percentage return on revenue for states than its in-person counterpart, where parlays are more likely to be made and more likely to provide income to the state. That concern is coupled with Delaware’s much smaller population than its neighbors, further diluting its ability to drive wagers and income.

The growth of mobile sports betting in neighboring states, and the demand from Delawareans to offer the increasingly common option, helped convince state leaders to make the leap though.

What to expect

Mobile sports betting is legal to anyone age 21 or older and must be made from an internet-connected device, such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop, within the boundaries of the state, verified by GPS.

The BetRivers app is available in the Apple and Google app stores or through the Delaware Lottery website. Bettors have to select one of the state’s three casinos – Delaware Park, Bally’s Dover and Harrington Casino – to place bets through the app in accordance with state regulations.

The timing of the sportsbook launch meant that football fans could place bets on Sunday’s Philadelphia Eagles game as well as the first games of the College Football Playoffs. It launched well ahead of the biggest betting events of the year: the Super Bowl and the March Madness basketball tournaments.

While the BetRivers’ app does offer online table games, RSI does not currently have an online poker product leaving players in the dark for now. The company is reportedly nearing a launch for a poker option, but Delaware is reportedly the first state to offer then lose an online poker option for gamblers, even temporarily.

RSI sees opportunity

Before RSI took over the online gambling operation, Delaware saw about $13 million annually in gross gaming revenue, of which over 80% was via online slots.

With a contracted minimum marketing budget for the new vendor, RSI believes a concerted campaign toward casino gamblers and sports bettors could help drive higher revenues.

“The [Delaware] market is pretty small right now. But over time, we think there’s a pretty nice opportunity to expand,” Rush Street Gaming Chief Financial Officer Kyle Sauers told analysts during the company’s third quarter earnings call in November. “If you just compare Delaware to our other live markets in the U.S. – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia – and you just match up adult population, income levels, you could argue that Delaware is only one-tenth the size relative to those other states as it should be over time.

“Like other North American casino markets that we’ve demonstrated, Delaware should get profitable pretty quickly.”

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