DOVER, Del. — The state Senate on Wednesday narrowly approved a bill authorizing online betting in Delaware and more venues for sports wagering and other gambling.
Senators voted 14-6 for the bill, which required a three-fifths majority. Having cleared the House earlier this month, the measure now heads to Gov. Jack Markell for his signature.
Senate passage of the bill was not without controversy, however, as a Democratic lawmaker who opposed it mistakenly voted for it, and one Republican said he supported the measure only to avoid layoffs by Delaware's three casinos.
Sen. Robert Venables, a Laurel Democrat who opposed the bill, said he had turned down his hearing aid during Wednesday's floor discussion and thought he was voting for an amendment, unaware that it had been stricken, rather than on the bill itself.
"I missed it," said Venables, who indicated that he might move to have the roll call rescinded.
In addition to allowing online slots and table games, the bill expands keno beyond Delaware's three casinos to at least 100 other sites, and betting on NFL football to at least 20 non-casino sites.
"We can keep Delaware at the forefront of gambling," said Senate President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca, D-Newark. "This is an opportunity for Delaware to be a leader in the marketplace."
Markell administration officials say revenues generated by the expanded gambling opportunities will allow them to eliminate $4 million in annual slot machine fees paid by the casinos and cut their table game fees from $6.75 million to $3 million.
In return for those financial breaks, the casinos would pledge to spend an equal amount on traditional business expenses such as marketing, capital improvements and debt reduction.
Casino industry officials in Delaware have complained that the current fees are a huge financial burden as they struggle to compete with casinos in neighboring states. They've indicated that without some help, they may be forced to lay off workers.
"I'd like to thank the legislators in both houses for their work to make this industry more competitive and keep so many people working," Markell said in a prepared statement.
Some GOP lawmakers said the state could help the casinos by simply reducing the state's share of existing gambling revenue.
"We don't need in-home gambling in this state. We have enough vices out there now," said Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel.
Lawson sponsored a failed amendment to reduce the state share of existing gambling revenue by 2 percent in lieu of authorizing online gambling.
Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, supported Lawson's amendment but ended up voting for the gambling expansion after the amendment failed.
"I just couldn't vote to lay people off," he said.