Why Is New York So Interested In Challenging The Federal Sports Betting Law?

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NY sports betting harness racing

We’re reportedly a month away from New York starting down the road that New Jersey has unsuccessfully traveled when it comes to sports betting. A bill that would legalize NY sports betting will be introduced next month, according to GamblingCompliance.

The NJ sports betting case — in which the state has challenged the federal sports betting prohibition (PASPA) is being appealed to the US Supreme Court.

At least one lawmaker in NY is also eager to also challenge the law that stops single-game sports wagering outside of Nevada sports betting establishments. The reason is likely tied to the plight of racetracks in New York and beyond.

The latest on NY and sports betting

J. Gary Pretlow, who chairs the NY Assembly’s Racing and Wagering Committee, has said he plans to push the issue of sports betting in the statehouse for some time now. (Such a bill surfaced in 2015 and 2016, but didn’t go very far.) Pretlow spearheaded an effort to legalize daily fantasy sports in the state, which ended with NY enacting a law in 2016.

“Pushing sports betting is at the top of my agenda right now,” Pretlow told Gambling Compliance (paywall).

New Jersey has been up front about its desire to legalize sports betting, mostly to help prop up struggling Atlantic City casinos and the state’s racetracks. Of course, NJ online gambling has also helped the casino industry in that state, but Pretlow has consistently pumped the brakes on NY online gambling and poker.

But why is sports betting on the “top” of Pretlow’s agenda?

Pretlow’s district has a track

The core casino industry in New York is not really in need of a whole lot of help. The state recently granted commercial casino licenses, and the first of those casinos is opening up in February. The state also has a robust tribal gaming industry.

Sure, casinos are always happy to make more money, and would jump at the chance to offer sports betting if allowed. But the sports betting effort is certainly not going to be the difference between most of these casinos making a buck or failing.

What is likely of concern to Pretlow and the legislature is helping the racetracks in the state. One of those tracks — Yonkers Raceway — resides in Pretlow’s 89th District. The track also features Empire City Casino, which has slot machines.

The harness racing industry — much like the over-arching horse racing industry — has been in decline for sometime. Sports betting is often seen as an avenue that could help the industry, as being able to take sports wagers gets people in the tracks’ doors.

Does the will exist to forge a sports betting battle?

As we’ve learned from the New Jersey case, enacting a sports betting law is just the start of the journey to legal sports betting, not the end. Should New York enact a law, it will be challenged by the professional sports leagues — MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA — along with the NCAA under PASPA.

That means the state is passing a law that is going to be tangled up in court for years, with an uncertain outcome. New York, at least, is in a different federal appellate circuit (Second) than New Jersey (Third). That means new judges would be hearing the PASPA argument, perhaps with a different outcome than the string of defeats New Jersey has been handed thus far.

The horse racing industry is certainly something the state would like to help, and it’s a source of pride for the state to some extent. Belmont Park, after all, hosts one of the annual Triple Crown races, while other major thoroughbred stakes meets and races are also held at Aqueduct and Saratoga.

Do enough lawmakers think this is an important enough issue to send New York to court against the pro sports leagues, which are headquartered in the state? The answer to that question will be answered if and when Pretlow’s legislation gains any traction.

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