- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

This not only is the NFL’s Super Bowl weekend, but also the Super Bowl for sports betting as well. Yet in this country, there is only one state out of 50 — Nevada — where Americans can legally exercise this freedom (although Oregon has a modest football lottery). Millions of dollars will be spent illegally on the outcome of tomorrow’s game, with money going into the hands of enterprises whose bank accounts likely are already filled with revenue from drugs, prostitution or other criminal activities.

We’re not talking about the Sopranos here. This is real life. Bookmaking is not “Guys and Dolls.” It’s Gotti and Gambino and a whole new generation of gangsters that everyone is doing business with when they make a phone call to lay $100 on the Bears.

However, that could all soon change. In fact, I would say in two or three years, tops, you’ll be able to get in your car and drive 100 miles to one of a series of sportsbooks that will be set up in Delaware. You will be able to bet legally and watch games in a sports palace with giant screens, similar to the sports books in Las Vegas.

And once Delaware takes that step, others surely will want to follow suit and likely will do battle with the federal government and the professional and collegiate sports lobbies to get their own sportsbook operations in their states.

Bet on it. It’s a sure thing.

Gambling is the new tax for state government entities, and these entities will look to expand their tax base as the current ones run dry. First there was Atlantic City in New Jersey with casino gambling. Then, states like Connecticut and New York slowly followed with the growth of Indian Gaming. Then riverboat casinos in states like Illinois and Missouri started to become popular.

This growth has been, and will continue to be, particularly concentrated in the states near Maryland and the District. Slots and video lotteries have been a huge bonanza for Delaware at its three horse tracks. And you can’t drive around this area without seeing a billboard advertising slot machines at Charles Town Races and Slots in West Virginia.

But both Delaware and West Virginia — as well as Atlantic City in New Jersey — have even more competition now that Pennsylvania has legalized slot machines. Fourteen casinos have been authorized in Pennsylvania, with each one potentially running 5,000 slot machines.

With slot machines surrounding Maryland’s borders in Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania — and with a new governor in office — the likelihood of legalized slot machines to support the horse industry in Maryland has become greater than ever. New York also is considered close to OKing slots for its race tracks as well.

If that happens, then why drive to Charles Town? Why bother going to Dover Downs? After all, strip away the uniqueness of the gambling opportunities, and those states have little else to offer.

This has been recognized in West Virginia, where a battle is ongoing in the state legislature to expand gambling to include tables with games such as poker, blackjack, craps and roulette. Similar measures are being taken in Delaware, where a state representative is leading the charge to legalize sports betting.

In an op-ed article in the Wilmington News-Journal, Rep. William A. Oberle made the case for his legislation to legalize sports betting in his state.

“As great as Delaware is, the one thing it does not have is size,” he wrote. “That limitation makes us vulnerable to our larger neighboring states.”

Delaware did flirt with a sports lottery briefly in 1976, but it failed and was stopped after 14 weeks. These are far different times, though, and the concept of sportsbooks along Delaware’s borders is an attractive proposition for a state about to be crushed by slot machines all around it.

Delaware likely could become the sports betting mecca of the east for two reasons:

• There are no major professional sports franchises in the state to lobby against legalized gambling. The pro leagues are a powerful lobby, as witnessed by their influence in the recent crackdown by the federal government against Internet sports betting.

• It has received a special exemption from a federal law banning sports betting.

There is a state legislator in New Jersey who also is pushing for legalized sports betting there, but Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew believes it to be a long shot because of the federal law that is prohibiting the state from doing so. Still, he thinks if Delaware can legalize sports betting, it will put pressure on other states to challenge the federal ban based on the interstate commerce clause that he believes can be overturned.

“There are certain casinos that I have had conversations with in the past that said if it was legal, that they would set up sports books in their casinos,” Van Drew said. “We all know there would be a challenge by the federal government or the NFL and other leagues, so let’s go through that challenge and hear it out in court and see if indeed the interstate commerce laws are being appropriately used in this case.”

Soon — very soon — people may be planning their Super Bowl trips to places like Newark, Dover and other Delaware towns. Then other states will follow, as politicians battle for the edge to get you to give them your money, instead of them having to take it.

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