Its official nickname is The First State, given that it was the first to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1787, so it seems appropriate that Delaware will usher in a new era for the United States on October 30. That is the target date set by the Delaware Lottery for the launch of the country’s first state-authorized casino-style gaming. To get consumers accustomed to playing online, the Lottery has launched free-play games through the websites of its three gaming agents – Delaware Park, Dover Downs, and Harrington Raceway.
The three tracks currently offer on-site video lottery terminals, table games and sports betting, and the state legalized online games in an effort to boost revenue and remain competitive in the congested gaming market that is the mid-Atlantic region.
Interestingly, the free games will only be available through Facebook, taking the use of social media to a new level. Once pay-for-play launches this fall, a Facebook account will not be required, as the Lottery will incorporate a full range of security measures to ensure identity, age and location within Delaware’s borders.
Although Delaware expects to be the first to open state-sanctioned online casinos, it won’t lead the pack by much. New Jersey is hot on its heels with a potential launch date of November 26. According to reports, dozens of companies have applied for Internet gaming licenses there, which is an effort to boost the sagging fortunes of Atlantic City. The new licenses will be limited to the city’s existing casinos, which are partnering with online gaming companies to get the job done.
While Delaware and New Jersey are the leaders in full casino-style online gaming, they aren’t the first for any type of Internet wagering activity. Of course, pari-mutuel betting has been available online for years – some say it is a big reason for the decline in racetrack handle while others believe it has been a savior of sorts, providing revenue which would never have been captured at the tracks anyway. Among lotteries, the Illinois Lottery began offering a limited number of traditional lottery games online in March 2012; the Georgia Lottery followed suit late last year. Both of those activities are quite limited and not the game-changers some expected them to be. More lotteries are gearing up to enter this arena. And let’s not forget Nevada, which legalized online poker earlier this year.
These efforts are all based on the states-rights issue – that state governments should be able to determine their own paths with respect to Internet gaming. Some have chosen to recognize the ubiquity of online commerce and simply added this channel to existing lottery or gaming products. Others clearly do not want online lottery or gaming products in their own jurisdictions. And that is one reason why attempts to legalize something at the Federal level – poker, mostly – have thus far failed.