Legal Delaware Gambling Laws

First state to sign the constitution, Delaware has a tradition of tight restrictions on gambling, and even a detailed review of their existing laws up to a few years ago would have revealed little promise of better things to come.

Yet there it is, on June 28th 2012 the Governor signed into law the Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act, allowing the state to run a wide range of gambling options for online play. Who would’ve thought it?

Delaware has become one of three states to legitimize online gambling, along with Nevada and New Jersey. As with their neighbours across the Delaware River, the state will license a full range of casino games for online play, not restricting its laws simply to poker, as Nevada has done.

Delaware Gambling - The letter of the law

This thin sliver of a state has never been too hot on gambling, with a few key exceptions sanctioned under state law. Before reviewing the hot new online gambling regulations, let’s consider existing law prior to this change.

State law defines any game with prizes, a house consideration and an element of chance as being a form of gambling, and treats any such game as illegal unless stated as a specific exemption. Games of dice and cards are expressly stated as illegal, with many other games falling under the general umbrella laws without being so singled out.

While there isn’t a crystal clear provision for social gaming in Delaware state law, there are a couple of precedent cases which indicate its legal acceptability. State vs. Titlemen and State vs. Panaro, cases from back in 1918 and 1910 respectively, both acknowledge that social games of poker are not breaking the law. A good rule of thumb is the same one as in many states; provided the house takes no consideration, the game should be deemed as occurring within the bounds of the law.

Licensed charitable gaming of certain types is permitted, with the express exceptions of craps, roulette, slot machines and baccarat, also provided the game complies with age restrictions on players. Poker has been allowed for charity gaming since 2004. Charity games’ biggest prizes have a cap of $5000.

The state does run a lottery, and there are also licensed horse racing and harness racing tracks. Harness racing is a lesser known form of racing involving horses but no jockeys, and doubtless gets somewhat chaotic in comparison with the more popular and well-known sport. Some wagers made in state racetracks can be “combined” with interstate wagers on races occurring in other states.

For a comprehensive review of all the key aspects under legal Delaware gambling law, you can consult this resource [1] from Gaming Law Masters.

Online gambling legal in Delaware

On June 28th 2012 the Governor put pen to paper and signed into law a bill proposing amendments to titles 4 and 29 of the Delaware code, making lawful the state operated provision of various forms of online gambling.

Under this law, all games will be operated by the Delaware Lottery itself, although there is also mention of “video lottery agents”. The bill makes reference to a recent US Justice Department ruling that “wagering within a state's boundaries does not violate federal law.” The full details and history of the bill from its proposal in May to the final signature can be found on a state government page here [2] . For the most detail minded legal eagles, the full text can be read here [3].

A legal department specialising in gambling law recently issued a statement [4] explaining that it is likely several operators will be granted permission to run online gambling, including brick and mortar venues such as the state’s few legal casinos. It is also stated in this release that many venues may be permitted to run licensed keno wagering, and that certain bars and restaurants may be allowed to run a limited form of sports betting.

It is understood that online gaming will commence no later than September 30th 2013, and play will be strictly limited to players within state borders. A wide range of games will be allowed under the new law, including “but not limited to, baccarat, blackjack, twenty one, poker, craps, roulette, bingo, wheel of fortune or any variation of these”. Provision has been made to allow interstate compacts, provided this does not get quashed at a federal level.

Read More State Laws

Is Casino gambling also legal?

While you’re waiting for this all-important legislation to kick into play on September 30th, you can enjoy some physical gambling in the meantime, in one the three premises licensed to run gaming in the state.

Delaware Park, which claims to be the best place to go for poker in the state, has a fairly thin selection of cash games running most of the time, and keeps a live tab on how many tables its currently running at which stakes. While the site is somewhat tilting inasmuch as it’s poorly written and updated, but at least it does feature a monthly poker tournament guide, and seems on average to run 2-5 events per day with most buy-ins pitched at somewhere between $20 and $120. The venue also provides sports betting, a racetrack, golf, a variety of table games and of course slots.

The poker room at Delaware Park also set a Guinness World Record in 2012, running a special poker tournament known as Iron Man, which ran continuously with no scheduled breaks for over 36 hours. The winner of this endurance marathon not only made the Guinness Book but also took home a healthy $27,160 for his troubles.

Harrington Raceway’s racetrack page can be viewed here [5], and although their casino page is currently down for updates I have been assured by their friendly telephone operators that they offer a wide range of table games, slots and other amusements.

Dover Downs is the largest casino on offer in the state, featuring a racetrack as well as a spa adjoining the casino, and running a good selection of table games as well as the ubiquitous slot machines. With 43 table games running craps up to $1000 bets, blackjack, baccarat, and a variety of poker formats, there’s something for everyone at this venue.

Their dedicated poker room runs a decent range of buy-in tournaments each week, the full list can be found here [6]. Most buy-ins run at around $75, and a monthly $295 entry typically attracts a few hundred players. There is also a special event running each September, featuring a $100,000 guarantee, the largest guarantee ever hosted by the casino.

Busts and Arrests

A series of busts were avoided by due legal process in January of 2013, with a number of fraternal and veteran organizations allowed to continue operating unlicensed slot machines while lawmakers work on a legal solution to sanction the activity. This has been regarded by some as a political move, since these groups are quite politically influential, while others without political resource continue to be prosecuted for the same behavior. The full story can be read here at the Delaware Newszap site [7].

For example, this raid on a Selbyville restaurant [8] in the same month led to the arrest of owner Declan McNamee, and his prosecution for “second-degree advanced gambling, possession of a gambling device, concerned in interest in keeping a gambling device and providing a premise for gambling”, although only a paltry $805 in gambling revenue was seized. This kind of selective application of the law for political reasons smacks of corruption, and is really not a good look, especially for a state now processing such major changes to its gambling laws.

The state clearly takes gambling law enforcement fairly seriously, even within the permitted premises. In 2010 a man was barred and fined substantial amounts for placing a “late bet” in a game of blackjack at Delaware Park, a well-known form of cheating. The man was fined $1000 for each of several late bets placed, although the bets themselves were for a mere $5 each.

In another incident at Dover Downs, police had to step in and arrest four individuals when a brawl developed at the casino in June 2013, amidst reports of a stabbing, although no victim with stab wounds was found at the scene. The fight had become quite large by the time police arrived, and two men face felony charges in connection with the event. Over fifty people were forcibly escorted from the venue. Tasers were used, and cocaine seized during the bust.

In a strange turn of events a Delaware state trooper is being charged with first degree robbery and conspiracy, as well as wearing a disguise and eight other counts, after being implicated in the armed robbery of a poker game at which he was already in attendance at the time of the robbery, which took place in Wyoming. Evidence linking the officer to the purchasing of disguises worn by the three armed robbers sealed his fate.

In a crime of passion gone wrong, one man in Delaware couldn’t stand his wife’s behavior any longer, as she continued to blow a total of over $30k of their life savings on her gambling obsession. He is alleged to have phoned up Delaware Park security in February 2013, threatening to come down to the casino with an AK-47 [9] and shoot the place up if they did not evict his wife from the venue.

The man was apprehended by police officers around midnight loitering outside the casino, with a full magazine in his pocket and the gun in his car. He was charged with reckless endangerment and the possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and is currently jailed. Apparently on his arrest he told police he was just planning to “scare” his wife.

Summary

If you’re looking for a gamble in Delaware, you could wander around the forecourt of a casino with a loaded weapon. But since the risk / reward ratio for such behavior would be insanely skewed, I’d recommend that instead of gambling with your life and / or freedom, you just wager a few dollars instead.

Your options as far as real money gambling in the state are as follows: You can play the state lottery, partake in charity games of bingo / poker / what have you, host a nice friendly social home game of poker, go down the races and bet on a horse, or buy a ticket for the state lottery. If you want some real poker tournament, slot machine or table game action, head down to one of the three state sanctioned casinos.

But if you’re looking for some serious online gambling action, you won’t have to wait very long. Just hold out until September 30th, and you’ll be spoilt for choice, as its all systems go on state run online wagering from that fateful date forward.

Sources for this article

  1. Gaminglawmasters.com: Delaware Gambling Update
  2. Delaware.gov: House Bill # 333 w/HA 2, HA 1 to HA 2
  3. Delaware.gov:HOUSE BILL NO. 333 - AN ACT TO AMEND TITLES 4 AND 29 OF THE DELAWARE CODE STATE LOTTERY
  4. Kleinmoynihan.com: Delaware Enacts Internet Gaming Law
  5. Harringtonraceway.com
  6. Doverdowns.com: Poker Room
  7. Newszap.com: Delaware House OKs gambling by fraternal groups
  8. WBOC.com: Illegal Gambling Machines, Cash Seized in Selbyville Raid
  9. Metro.us: Police: Man threatened Delaware Park Casino staff with assault rifle