Published: June 9, 2018

How It Felt To Book Delaware's First Sports Bet

How It Felt To Book Delaware's First Sports Bet On Tuesday, a lifelong Philly sports fan placed a $10 bet on the Phillies to beat the Cubs. Why is this newsworthy? Because the fan placing the bet was Delaware was the state’s governor, John Carney, and when he made that wager at Dover Downs racetrack and casino, he was placing the first legal single-game sports bet outside of Nevada. And, it turns out, one of the people behind that bet has a long personal history with Dover Downs.

Governor Carney’s bet came just over three weeks after the Supreme Court struck down 1992’s Professional and Amateur Sports Provision Act (PASPA), which made it illegal for states that did not already have sports wagering to license and regulate it, effectively closing the door to the expansion of sports betting outside of Nevada.

In the wake of PASPA’s repeal, many states have made their intentions to start taking legal bets clear. But Delaware was the first to act on its intentions. But it’s been a long struggle to taking that first bet, something that William Hill US CEO Joe Asher, who started in the betting business at Wilmington’s Brandywine Raceway at the age of 16, knows better than anybody.

Asher worked in and around the racing industry from that time on, working at tracks throughout the Northeast. Among his accolades: Becoming the youngest track announcer in North America when he called the races at Dover Downs as a teenager. Asher paid his way through the University of Delaware by writing about racing and betting for the Wilmington News-Journal and a few magazines. He then graduated from Delaware Law School of Widener University, magna cum laude, and clerked with the Delaware Supreme Court.

Working for a law firm, Asher realized that his heart wasn’t in the law.

“I’d come home from work, and instead of studying the latest Supreme Court decisions, I’d read the Daily Racing Form,” he says.

So he left the firm for a job with a client who was developing a betting-related service, which entailed him moving to Las Vegas. After leaving that company, Asher decided to start his own sports betting provider in 2008. He named it Brandywine Bookmaking, after the place where he broke into the industry and received his early education.

“This was something I’d been passionate about since my youth,” Asher explains. “I felt that I understood what the customer would want because I had been on both sides of the counter.” The company specialized in operating sportsbooks for casinos that didn’t want the hassle of doing it themselves. By 2011, Asher and his all-star team were running 16 sports books across the state.

Asher’s aspirations received a boost in 2012, when the London-based William Hill acquired Brandywine Bookmaking as part of a Nevada buying spree. The company also bought Club Cal Neva sports book and American Wagering, which ran the Leroy’s franchise of sports books. The acquisitions made it a dominant player in Nevada. The company tabbed Asher to helm its American operations. Today, he oversees the company’s 100+ Nevada sportsbooks and its developments in other states which, since the PASPA repeal, have become a good deal more active. The giant British bookmaker placed a bet on American sports betting expansion six years ago, and that bet seems to be paying off now.

William Hill is the “exclusive risk manager” for Delaware’s sports lottery, which means it sets the odds and acts as bookmaker for the state. The casinos themselves employ the ticket writers and other on-site personnel. Though he didn’t write the ticket, that first bet would not have happened without Asher and his team.

Three weeks from Supreme Court decision to open betting windows might seem speedy, but Carney’s bet was, for Delaware, nine years late. In 2009, the state first approved sports betting. Delaware’s lottery had run a football parlay game in 1976, which, the state argued, qualified it for a PASPA carve-out. A federal court, however, found Delaware’s planned sports betting violated PASPA and restricted the state to accepting only parlay wagers, which are bets on the results of three or more games.

Just before the governor placed his historic wager, Asher contemplated just how far he—and Delaware—had come.

“There’s a feeling of satisfaction since we were planning to take all types of bets back in 2009 before that was stopped by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals due to litigation brought by the sports leagues," Asher says. "But better late than never.”

The homecoming was the highlight of a busy week for Asher and William Hill.

“On Monday,” Asher says, “I went to Atlantic City to check progress at the Ocean Resort and to Monmouth Park to review what’s happening there.” William Hill will be running the sport books at both the soon-to-open Atlantic City casino (which previously operated as Revel before its 2014 closure, and the North Jersey racetrack.

“It was great to see the newly hired employees training for their new jobs at Monmouth as well as a number of our colleagues from Nevada there helping them learn what to do,” Asher says. “Creating jobs for people, which will help them and their families have a better life, is immensely rewarding and one of the clear benefits of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Individual sports bettors may win or lose, but with PASPA struck down, the expansion of legal sports betting is gambling’s next frontier as states rush to join Delaware in permitting legal wagers on sporting events.

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