Legal Gambling in Delaware

An Overview of the Gambling Laws Covering the State Of Delaware

Delaware have shown a progressive and realistic attitude in the regulation of gambling for many years. They have strict rules and licensing requirements – yet they offer all forms of gambling to their residents. Delaware have become a major destination for visitors from neighboring States with their huge race-track casino complexes. They were also the first State to host fully regulated online poker and casino games, and the first to share players across State borders (along with Nevada). This page is a comprehensive guide to the gambling laws of Delaware.

First up below, you will find an overview of the history of gambling in Delaware. This high-level overview gives you a flavor of how the progressive legislation and control efforts have resulted in today’s situation. Next I have gone through the different gambling formats and summarized the current status of each one. After that there is a timeline of the legislation and major events in chronological order. Finally, you will find a look into the future – along with my thoughts on the possible next steps for this State.

Delaware Gambling Laws – A Brief History

The history of gambling in Delaware goes all the way back to colonial times. The first race-track was inaugurated in 1760, some 27 years before Delaware became the first State. There was also lottery gambling in those early years, this caused issues with the British, who were convinced that they were not getting their fair share of the revenues. While betting on horse racing was not legal at the time, it is understood that unofficial gambling was rife.

Puritanical times in the 18th and 19th centuries forced gambling underground, and it was not until the tough economic times of the great depression that things changed. The search for revenue subdued opponents of betting, and in 1933 a commission was set up to oversee and license betting on horse racing.

Several businessmen saw the opportunity, and this liberalization of gambling laws lead to development of racetracks.  In 1935 the first licenses were issued and in 1937 the huge Delaware Park racetrack was opened.

Delaware is one of only 4 States which were excluded from the 1991 Federal ban on betting on professional sports. In 2009 this exclusion was limited by the major sport-league bill which limited this to betting on NFL parlays. More extensive betting opportunities are still available via offshore sports-books. Bingo and lottery games are currently legal and regulated and have enjoyed an easy-ride compared with the complexities of casino and betting legislation over the years.

Casino table games and live poker took a long time to become legal in this State. It was not until 2009 that these would become regulated under the control of the ambiguously named ‘Division of Business and Professional Regulation’. It is the 3 huge racetrack casinos who dominate with these games. These are Harrington Raceway, Dover Downs and Delaware Park.

This late start with casino gaming did not deter Delaware from moving to the forefront of progressive legislation. In 2012 a new act was signed, setting out a framework which would see the first licenses for online gambling issued a year later. With a relatively small population, liquidity in online poker games is an issue in this State – you need a lot of people to be able to run large tournaments. More progressive legislation solved this issue, with Delaware and Nevada signing a liquidity sharing deal for online poker players in 2014.

What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Here is a quick run-through on a game-by-game basis of what gambling formats you can currently enjoy within the borders of Delaware.

Casino Games: Yes, there are 3 major casino complexes in Delaware, which are linked to their racetracks. These are Dover Downs, Harrington Raceway and Delaware Park. You can enjoy slots, poker and table games in addition to betting on the horse races at each of these venues.

Online Casino Gambling: Yes, this was the first State to allow casino gambling online - the licenses are owned by the big 3 Delaware racetracks.

Live Poker: Yes, poker cash games and tournaments are run at the same 3 casinos. While there is no law specifically legalizing home-games, there are legal precedents from 1910 and 1918 which indicate that social poker games are permitted as long as the house or organizer is not making a profit from the game.

Online Poker: Yes, Delaware was the first State to regulate online poker in 2012, with the first sites (again the big 3 live casinos own them) going live in 2013. These games are powered by a common back-end, which is controlled by the popular 888 Poker platform. In 2014 an agreement was signed with Nevada to allow players in each State access to each other’s poker rooms – this is the first liquidity sharing agreement across State borders. Charity poker games have also been legal since 2004.

Sports Betting: Yes, Delaware are one of 4 states who had their right to sports betting ‘grandfathered’ when Federal legislation was passed banning this in 1992.

Lottery Betting: Yes, This comes in many formats including video lottery machines and shared intra-State games including the PowerBall.

Bingo: Yes, there are a lot of live bingo halls in Delaware, there was a separate organization covering Bingo for many years, these responsibilities were eventually merged with the Division of Business and Professional Regulation.

Delaware Gambling Laws – Timeline and Key Statutes

Delaware are liberal when it comes to allowing their residents to gamble, however this does not mean there is no enforcement for those who gamble outside of the law. Gambling itself is not clearly defined in the books here, instead there are several linked areas including using a gambling device, hosting a gambling game and disseminating information concerning gambling.

Here us the part about using a gambling device.

“"The person keeps, exhibits or uses, or is concerned in interest in keeping, exhibiting or using any book, device, apparatus or paraphernalia for the purpose of receiving, recording or registering bets or wagers upon the result of any trial or contest, wherever conducted, of skill, speed or power of endurance of human or beast; ..." (From:  1432)

Note that the skill game argument is difficult to use in this context.

Here are the major legal milestones for Delaware:

1760: Some 27 years before Delaware became the first State the first racetrack was opened. There was no official betting at this time – though unofficial betting was undoubtedly rife.

1933: The Delaware Racing Commission was created to oversee the introduction of legalized betting at horse racing tracks. Like in many States, this bill was introduced in an attempt to generate revenues after a tough period during the great depression. In 1935 the first licenses were awarded, purely for on-track betting and via the pari-mutuel pooled betting machines.

1937: Delaware Park opened, this is still one of the premier racetrack casinos today and holds one of the licenses for online gambling too.

1957: The bingo commission was formed, bingo was originally for charity organizations and any profits had to be used for charitable purposes.

1981: The Delaware Gaming Control Board was formed to oversee all forms of gambling. In 1986 the name of this organization was changed to The ‘Division Of Business And Professional Regulation’.

1996: The first video lottery machines were introduced.

2009: Sports Betting and Casino table games were legalized .This same year a Federal act limiting betting on pro sports to NFL parlays was signed.

2012: Online gambling was legalized on licensed sites for those within the State borders. Delaware became the first State to license online gambling, and is the only State to allow games other than Poker.

2013: The first licenses are issued, the big 3 racetrack casinos (Delaware Park, Harrington’s Raceway and Dover Downs) go live on a common platform supplied by industry giant 888.

2014: An intra-state liquidity sharing deal is signed with Nevada covering online poker sites. Players from each state can now play on each other’s licensed poker sites.

Delaware Gambling Laws – Summary of the Current Situation and Look into the Future

Since 2009, things have been moving fast for this State, with casino games and online gambling providing much needed revenue for the State coffers – and reaffirming DE’s credentials as a casino resort destination for neighboring states.

Their proximity to other States with gambling legislation of their own does raise possibilities of future deals – particularly with New Jersey’s licensed online poker sites. Whether any further States will allow casino games online remains to be seen.

Useful Resources:

List of the Gambling Related Statutes

Summary of Laws

News on Sharing Poker with Nevada

Division of Professional Regulation