STANTON, Del. — It is late Sunday morning and already the line to place sports bets stretches the length of a city block inside Delaware Park casino.
“This is the greatest thing on earth,” says Tom Schillizzi, a scruffy-bearded excavation worker from Staten Island.
In May, the US Supreme Court overturned a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. Delaware became the first state to take advantage of the ruling, beginning June 5.
New Jersey is set to open for sports betting Thursday and three other states (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Mississippi) have approved legislation. Rhode Island and Connecticut are among 15 other states that already have introduced new legislation.
Delaware Park is a well-manicured racetrack with a casino featuring 2,300 slots, but a glitzy Las Vegas hot spot it is not.
“Come on, there’s no comparison,” says Schillizzi, who once lived in Sin City. “Vegas is Vegas.”
Here, 40 miles south of Philadelphia, when they talk about “The Strip,” they’re referring to the Eagles’ Brandon Graham smacking the ball out of Tom Brady’s hand in the Super Bowl. There are no scantily-clad waitresses in sight. And liquor, per state law, cannot be comped.
Wagering figures are only released monthly, but most of the daily action is on Major League Baseball. Bets were also offered on WNBA games, college baseball, boxing, and NASCAR.
The hourlong wait at both the teller and betting terminals brought out some LeBron James-like whining, but also camaraderie among like-minded characters.
Schillizzi says he’s been betting on baseball for 32 years.
“My first bet was $20 on the Mets to win the ’86 World Series,” he says. He thanks the Lord for Bill Buckner. “I thought it was over.”
He loves the camaraderie here, plus the immediate payout on winnings.
“With the bookie, you’ve got to wait,” he says. “You don’t get paid till the following week.”
In tough times, he says, he has stiffed a few bookies. But it’s not like he was worried about winding up in the swamps of Jersey.
“All the talk about they’re going to break your legs, that’s [expletive], because once they touch you, you don’t have to pay them anymore,” he says. “That’s a street law in New York.”
John Ciamaicone of Newark dresses a hot dog while keeping an eye on the dozens of TV monitors overhead.
“I love this,” he says. “I’ve gone to Vegas 37 times and now I don’t have to go through the hassle.”
Ciamaicone also believes that the legalization of sports betting works against point shaving.
“Everything will be open and honest,” he says, “and fixing a game will be harder because everything will be documented.”
While waiting in line, bettors study the odds sheets and discuss their options. Rookies look up a glossary of terms such as “chalk” (the favorite), “dog” (underdog), and “dime” ($1,000 bet).
One obsessed bettor researches everything from weather conditions at ballparks to the batting averages of players against the day’s starting pitcher. For this he is chastised.
“Overanalysis gives you paralysis,” says bettor Bob Zurichin, very loudly. “Once you start analyzing everything, you’re done.”
There are few women here, but one is already a winner. Kathy Wakefield, an asbestos claim reviewer, already has a $149.20 win on a $5 parlay bet from a previous visit.
“I love sports,” she says. “I love that sports betting is legal.”
The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally bet at least $150 billion annually on sports.
“I’d rather come here than go online,” says Wakefield. “I feel safer.”
A native New Yorker said he’s betting the underdog Mets against the Yankees. The slumping Mets are mired in an eight-game losing streak and face Yankees ace Luis Severino, who hasn’t lost since April.
“Now you’re playing the lottery,” warns Louis Collazo of Wilmington, shaking his head. “You’re giving your money away,”
He’s dead wrong. The Mets win, 2-0, and the bettor wins $42 on a $20 wager.
Cubs fan Henry Coleman of Frederick, Md., says he’s happy to help raise revenue for the state and create jobs.
“I think it’s awesome,’’ he says. “It’s about time. People are going to do it illegally anyway, so why not help out?”
He added that this is better than Internet wagering or going to a bookie.
“It’s straight cash here,” he says. “You can’t bet if you don’t have it.”
Troy Carba of Hagerstown, Md., wears a Red Sox cap and nurses a beer. He worries about Dustin Pedroia and wonders what happened to Hanley Ramirez. But he doesn’t bet on the Red Sox this day.
“I was going to bet them, but the lines were super long and I couldn’t get even get in my 1 p.m. bets,’’ he says. “I don’t think they were expecting it to be this big this soon.”
Instead, he picks a parlay of teams that starts at 2 p.m., and he insists sports betting is here to stay.
“Once [New Jersey] goes through, I think it’s going to be a snowball thing,’’ he says. “It’s going to take off.”
New Jersey will be slightly different than Delaware. Bettors will not be allowed to wager on New Jersey college teams or on college games played in the state.
Former New Jersey Senator (and New York Knick) Bill Bradley disagrees with the Supreme Court decision, saying it will poison sports.
“They’ve turned every basketball player, football player and baseball player into a roulette chip,” he told the Bergen Record.
“I can’t see those arguments,” says Carba.
A recent University of Massachusetts study said that sports betting is associated with a higher rate of gambling problems than lottery play and casino gambling, but with a lower rate than horse race betting.
Sports betting is “not the end of the world,” says Rachel Volberg, a UMass research associate professor and former president of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “But it has to be well-regulated and carefully managed,” and include dedicated funds for research, prevention, and treatment of gambling addiction, she says.
For Carba, knowing when to quit is tougher than picking a winner.
“I’ve learned my lesson because I have won and put some money back in and then it’s gone,’’ he says. “If I hit, I’m just going to take my money and run.”