Delaware Park has walked a long road to get to where it is today. From its inception in 1937 by William duPont, Jr., it has undergone many dramatic changes. These changes have created the character and atmosphere of Delaware Park. Delaware Park is the area's best gaming and entertainment experience that values its guests, builds rewarding relationships and makes a difference.
In 1933, legislation was passed to create the Delaware Racing Commission and in 1935 it was given the power to grant licenses for the selling of pools by pari-mutuel machines and to receive wagers "within the enclosure of any horse race meeting licensed and conducted under this act." In 1936, the Delaware Racing Commission met with the Delaware Steeplechase and Race Association, Inc to "promote the breeding of thoroughbred horses and the establishment of a race track." The latter group had purchased a large amount of land in Stanton and was beginning to build a racing facility. A bill was introduced to the House of Representatives that increased the number of race days from 20 to 30 and added a tax of 20 cents on every free ticket issued for admission to any race meeting held in the state. The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed into law.
William duPont, Jr., the designer of 23 race courses, including Fair Hill, a steeplechase course in Cecil County, Maryland, designed Delaware Park, which opened June 26, 1937 with a 30-day meet. The original Delaware Park facilities consisted of an open-air, 7,500 seat grandstand with an innovative tiered Clubhouse/Turf Club on the upper level. The track itself was a one-mile dirt oval with a pair of steeplechase turf courses. The backstretch contained stables for 1,226 horses. The outstanding features of Delaware Park were the exquisite architecture and the saddling and picnic grove areas.
The racing business was welcomed by the community and the sport flourished, although the track was forced to close briefly in 1943 during World War II. After reopening in 1944, Delaware Park became profitable, with a handle of more than $23 million from 288,000 customers. In 1958, a $2.8 million expansion was completed, including the building of a new clubhouse and the enlargement of the grandstand, resulting in the doubling of the seating capacity. Televisions were added and the winner's circle was built. Delaware Park, with its prime location, became a haven for summer racing fans throughout the Middle Atlantic region. Trainloads of race goers came via the B & O and Pennsylvania Railroads to the trackside terminals. Scores of buses rolled in daily from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Crowds of more than 20,000 were commonplace on Saturdays.
Successes stabilized and remained consistent throughout the next few decades. On September 6, 1982, however, surrounding competition and disinterest in horse racing led Delaware Park to officially close its doors. In late 1983, the elder William Rickman a Rockville, Maryland developer of office buildings, acquired Delaware Park in partnership with Maryland based horseman William Christmas. The track reopened in the spring of 1984 with a weekend-only meet ending Memorial Day. A second meet with a three-day-per-week format was attempted in the fall, but it failed to create a crowd.
In the winter of 1985, the elder William Rickman took full control of Delaware Park determined to turn the ailing track around. The 1985 season brought moderate success to Delaware Park, partially due to an increase in Mid-Atlantic racing interest. The season ended with a $522,134 daily average handle. A new high mark was set for the new Delaware Park when over $1 million was wagered on Kentucky Derby day. Delaware Park was successful in meeting an onslaught of competition from neighboring states over the next several years. Delaware Park responded to these new entities with innovations of its own: the introductions of the Twin Trifecta and Arabian racing, the development of family-oriented promotions, and the presentation of local entertainment.
In 1986, former track chairman Baird Brittingham was instrumental in bringing back the prestigious Delaware Handicap, which had been moved to Saratoga after the 1982 closing of Delaware Park. In the summer of 1993, William Rickman took the day-to-day reins of the racetrack from his father. Delaware Park concentrated on offering local fans a schedule of multiple racing choices and created a comfortable atmosphere to watch simulcasting year-round. By mid-season, Delaware Park began sending its simulcast signal to other tracks and OTBs throughout the country. In 1995, Delaware Park began a major promotional campaign to increase the number of tracks receiving its signal during the live meet. Total handle for the 1995 live racing season soared to an all-time record of $91 million. Purses for live racing, which a year earlier had been $48,000 per day, were increased several times and reached an impressive $92,000 daily at the end of the live meet.
While the track's simulcast operation continued to grow, William Rickman personally took charge of efforts to seek video lottery legislation. In June 1994, the Delaware General Assembly passed H.B. 628, The Horse Racing Redevelopment Act, legalizing slot machine gambling at Delaware racetracks. Under the direction of the Delaware State Lottery, legislation was enacted to introduce slot machines at Delaware Park, Dover Downs, and Harrington Raceway. Fueled with new optimism, William Rickman began the plans to make Delaware Park a major league entertainment complex.
In 2009, Delaware Park was granted approval by the General Assembly to accept sports wagers. After much legal interpretation and many challenges, Delaware Park opened its Sports Book in September that same year, offering 3-game parlays for pro football. This enhanced the Clubhouse's already frenetic atmosphere and brought in many new faces. Coupled in the legislation was a clause that table games would be addressed soon thereafter. In 2010, the legislature brought forth an official bill legalizing live table games for Delaware's three racing and slots venues, and June 18, 2010 marked the first day of Delaware Park's full-fledged casino operation.