New York faces possible constitutional amendment to widen scope of sports betting beyond casinos
Legal Sports Report

NY Lawmakers To Push For Sports Betting At Tracks, OTBs; 2013 Law Already Authorized It At Commercial Casinos

NY legislature sports betting
New York will again take a look at the possibility of widely legalizing and regulating sports betting, according to The Albany Times-Union.

The report from the state capitol there comes roughly a month before the New Jersey sports betting case heads to the US Supreme Court. A win for NJ could mean states like New York could move to offer sports betting within their borders.

The effort comes well after the state already enacted a law in 2013 that would allow sports betting at its newly minted commercial casinos.

What’s new in New York on sports betting?

The Times-Union reported on the prospective effort in depth, although it still lacks details on logistics of a potential sports betting bill:

“The lawyers are looking at that right now,” said Democratic Westchester Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly’s Racing and Wagering committee.

Lawmakers are also looking to potentially speed the process by exploring legal strategies for bringing sports betting to the state without going through the amendment process which would take two years.

Sports betting bills in the state have surfaced in recent years, including 2017. A planned attempt to challenge the federal ban on sports betting (outside of Nevada) never materialized.

New York already has a sports betting law

All of the attempts to legalize sports wagering in New York belie the fact that the state has already moved on authorizing sports wagering.

A 2013 constitutional amendment was approved by the state’s voters authorizing commercial casinos in the state. Those casinos have started to open over the past year.

GamblingCompliance reported in 2015 on the possible ramifications for sports betting.

“When we passed the 2013 referendum, we said if the federal government allows it then we will allow it at all of the resort casinos,” said state Senator John Bonacic at the Saratoga Institute on Equine, Racing and Gaming Law conference last week.

In the enabling legislation for that amendment, there are very specific provisions that deal with “sports wagering.” A professor of political science already delved into the issue this year:

If New Jersey wins its lawsuit, New York is ready. When the New York state constitution was amended to allow casino gambling in 2013, the Legislature made clear its intent to include sports betting. It specified in the accompanying legislation a contingent provision that sounds like a prohibition but is actually an authorization. …

The law then goes on to provide considerable additional detail on licensing and other regulatory requirements specific to sports betting.

What’s in NY’s statutes

The state statute can be seen here (sports wagering is section 1367). The law clearly says that a change must first come to PASPA:

No gaming facility may conduct sports wagering until such time as there has been a change in federal law authorizing such or upon a ruling of a court of competent jurisdiction that such activity is lawful.

That law goes onto say that “A sports pool shall be operated in a sports wagering lounge located at a casino.” A casino, as defined by the statute, are the commercial casinos that the new law authorized.

All of that makes the efforts and a possible rush to pass a new law seem strange with that context. The sports wagering language from the commercial casino statute is rarely mentioned in the state.

But the reason for a new sports betting effort appears to be the need and desire to include the state’s horse racing tracks, racinos and off-track betting facilities.

OTBs and tracks obviously want in

The aforementioned Times-Union piece mentioned how the CEO of Batavia Downs thought his facility would be at a “distinct disadvantage” should NJ win its case. That appears to reflect the current climate in NY.

Race tracks are a big part of gaming for the state of New York; Pretlow represents a district with a track in Yonkers, for example. Major thoroughbred races take place at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga throughout the year.

What’s next for NY sports betting?

So the state wants to make sure these facilities can be a part of the action should NY move forward with sports betting. How would that happen? There are two fairly obvious answers:

  • A constitutional amendment to authorize sports wagering at all licensed gaming facilities in the state. That’s a lengthy process to be sure and one fraught with political pitfalls. It would take a measure passed by the Assembly and a referendum of New York voters.
  • The state could try to call sports betting “a game of skill,” so it can skirt the constitutional amendment requirement. That’s the tactic used to enact a daily fantasy sports law in 2016. It’s also been used in efforts to legalize NY online poker. The DFS law is currently being challenged in court.

What will we see next in New York? That’s not exactly clear. But like we saw with a new sports betting law in Pennsylvania, the prospect of a New Jersey victory in the nation’s highest court can spur states to action on sports gambling.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.