FENWICK ISLAND — In its first year of existence, the sports lottery provided the necessary spark local restaurants were clamoring for.
The addition of National Football League parlays did not translate directly into revenue but generated traffic to the establishments, especially on Sundays.
“The football lottery was amazing,” said Dawn McGee, owner of Smitty McGee’s in Fenwick Island. “You don’t make a lot of money off of it, but it definitely increased business. People come in and buy things, which definitely helped us out because we had a great winter.”
Smitty McGee’s was one of the 31 retail locations to implement the sports lottery, 11 of which were in Sussex County. Every week, Smitty McGee’s ranked among the top five in popularity, according to McGee.
Last year, the restaurant had to contend with the usual business slump that occurs in the offseason. This winter, however, McGee had to alter hours of operation on Sundays to keep pace with the increased attendance.
“By 9 a.m., the line was so humungous,” she said. “We decided we’d have to open two hours earlier just to get all of the tickets sold.”
At nearby Harpoon Hanna’s, the winter season tended to translate into slower business despite efforts to promote the restaurant as an NFL viewing zone.
The addition of the parlay, however, led to a surge in patrons, so much so general manager James Lucas had to add eight more TVs.
“In previous years, the football crowd softened as the holidays approached, but it stayed very strong this year,” he said. “We’ve been known as the place to see every game, which suits parlay gamblers because they can sit in one chair and watch five or more games.”
Though the sports lottery did help businesses on Sundays, it did not have a similar effects the other six days of the week. Aside from a little extra foot traffic during the games, Nicola’s Pizza in Rehoboth Beach saw only a slight difference in comparison to last year.
“Basically, it brings business and traffic off of the street, so there is a slight difference,” owner Nick Caggiano said. “On Sunday, there’s some kind of improvement, but you don’t see much during the week.”
Parlays ended when the NFL season came to a conclusion, but the Delaware Sports Lottery is hopeful the installment of Keno also will have a positive effect.
Keno was implemented at 81 locations throughout the state, including Harpoon Hanna’s, Nicola’s Pizza and Smitty McGee’s.
Thus far, however, it has not been met with as much success as anticipated.
“Honestly, Keno is off to a pretty slow start, but I think that’s more a product of the time of the year than anything else,” Lucas said. “As the weather breaks, I expect more people to play.”