Interest in the possibility of legalizing sports betting in New York appears to be at an all-time high, with bills appearing in both the Senate and the Assembly.
Just last week, a similar effort appeared in Maryland.
The sports betting bills in NY
The sports betting effort in the Empire State kicked off early in the year, with a bill from state Sen. Tony Avella. A “same as” — or identical — piece of legislation popped up recently in the Assembly, as well.
What would the bills do? They would alter the constitution of the state so that casinos and racetracks could offer sports wagering. It would add this passage (in part) to the constitution in article 1, section 9, excepting sports betting from the restrictions on gambling:
… and except wagering on professional sporting events and athletic events sponsored by universities or colleges at betting facilities located at thoroughbred and harness racetracks operating in this state, in simulcast theaters operated by off-track betting corporations and in any constitutionally authorized casino facility, as may be prescribed by the legislature …
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman penned an opinion, saying the bill would lawfully change the constitution. You can read that brief opinion here.
Getting a constitutional amendment passed in New York is a slow task, and not an easy one to complete. It must be approved by the legislature on two different occasions (one time occurring after an election cycle). And that it must be approved by voters via a referendum.
So this legislation has a long way to go before becoming law.
The New York bill would challenge federal law
Even if the legislation makes it through all the above steps, it still faces problems. Namely, it would violate current federal law — PASPA — that prevents single-game wagering outside of Nevada sports betting.
For years, New Jersey has been mounting a challenge to that law, but still can’t offer sports betting within its borders because of a series of defeats in court. The state is appealing its case to the US Supreme Court.
The hope in New York might be that New Jersey sports betting is allowed to happen if the state ends up winning the case. If it does so, New York would be ahead of the curve by amending its constitution now.
But it New Jersey does not prevail, New York would face a court battle much like New Jersey has, albeit in a different federal circuit.
Are these the bills to watch?
It wouldn’t appear that this is the last possible bill we will see. Assembylmember J. Gary Pretlow indicated his desire last year to challenge federal law on sports betting with a bill of his own. That bill has not yet surfaced. Pretlow chairs the Assembly’s gaming committee.
Pretlow is not currently signed on as a co-sponsor of the Assembly bill that does exist. That makes it appear likely that his own legislation might still be forthcoming, and it might take a tack outside of a constitutional amendment. It’s possible he will use the “game of skill” approach applied to bills regarding online poker and fantasy sports. Such an approach would not require a constitutional amendment.
Regardless, New York is a state that appears to want to offer sports betting eventually, if the legal climate allows for it.