Lost in the news that the legal fight regarding Delaware’s ability to take bets on single NFL games (and any other sport) has ended is the fact that the NFL no longer will challenge the ability of Delaware to offer three-game parlay wagers.
Last year, the NFL took the position that the Delaware constitution prohibits sports wagering, because it permits lotteries based only on chance, not skill. The Delaware Supreme Court issued a non-binding advisory opinion finding that the three-game parlay wagers do not violate the Delaware constitution.
The federal lawsuit filed in July by the NFL and other sports leagues primarily attacked the ability of Delaware to offer wagering on one game at a time. However, the lawsuit also requested a blanket finding that the entire gambling program, which includes parlay wagering, violates the Delaware constitution.
A federal law passed in 1992 prohibits sports wagering, but it carved out an exception for states that had offered such betting between 1976 and 1990. Since Delaware allowed three-game NFL parlay cards for a brief time in 1976 (they scuttled it after staggering losses due to poorly-set betting lines, which tends to undermine the notion that it’s a lottery based on chance), the federal courts found that only the three-game NFL parlay cards could be used going forward.
In the wake of Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court not to review the finding that the 1992 federal law blocks single-game betting, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tells us that the league no longer is challenging the question of whether the Delaware constitution prevents three-game parlay bets. “We are not litigating it,” Aiello said via e-mail. “The Delaware Supreme Court offered an advisory opinion that the three-game parlay does not violate the Delaware Constitution. That was the end of the issue for us.”
Based on the language of the federal lawsuit filed after the advisory opinion was published, the issue technically still remained in play. At some point since July 2009, however, the NFL has decided not to fight the parlay-card approach, despite the concerns that the league previously has articulated regarding the proximity of legal NFL wagering to multiple cities containing pro football teams: Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York.
And it’s also not out of the question that single-game wagering eventually will be used in Delaware. A lawsuit filed by New Jersey officials against the Justice Department seeks a finding that the 1992 federal law discriminates against states that did not have sports wagering between the relevant period from 1976 through 1990. If that lawsuit, which is still pending, succeeds, Delaware and any other state would be permitted, as a matter of federal law, to take bets on NFL games.
At that point, the league’s challenge based on the Delaware constitution surely would be dusted off, especially since the Delaware Supreme Court’s advisory opinion did not address whether single-game betting constitutes “chance” or “skill.”