Published: February 25, 2018

New York State Bills on Sports Betting Head to Committee

On January 24, the New York State Senate held a public hearing to discuss the potential of New York sports betting, which brought together speakers from the NBA, bookmaker William Hill US and officials from New York’s horse racing industry. Recently both New York legislative chambers have indicated an intention to make the potential a reality.

Both measures — Senate Bill 1282 and Assembly Bill 5438 — were first introduced in February 2017 before the United States Supreme Court (somewhat surprisingly) took New Jersey’s case,  Murphy v NCAA (formerly Christie v NCAA), which may soon result in the repeal of the 1992 federal ban on sports wagering outside Nevada (that law is PASPA).

After the hearing, the twin bills (or “concurrent resolutions”) were referred to their respective chambers’ Judiciary Committees on February 15 (Senate) and January 31 (the House). Both bills propose an amendment to the New York State constitution, authorizing gambling on professional and collegiate sporting events at betting facilities at racetracks, in Off-Track Betting simulcast venues, and in licensed casinos, according to regulations prescribed by the legislature.

But accomplishing the stated goal and a constitutional amendment may be a lengthy process, while lawmakers believe time is of the essence. They may be pursuing alternate pathways to making sports wagering in New York a reality before neighbors beat them to the punch.

The sponsor for A5438 is Assemblyman David Weprin (D-District 24), who proposed the measure to put New York’s OTBs, racinos and casinos on equal footing with the four commercial casinos that may already be permitted to offer sports wagering by virtue of a 2013 constitutional amendment. (Check out subsection 1367 on page 157).

So, an additional amendment may be necessary to bring other gaming entities into the fold. Also New York’s 12 tribal casinos and racinos may wish to offer sports wagering as well.

The hiccup here is that the amendment would have to be approved in successive legislative sessions and could not go before New York State voters for a referendum until the fall of 2019.

Based on my reading, it’s not clear if that language is even enough to open the door for sports wagering at the new commercial casinos referenced within amendment, because the language depends on federal law authorizing sports wagering or a ruling that the activity is lawful; the Supreme Court may simply strike PASPA but not say whether state-sponsored sports wagering is indeed lawful. The case is addressing the constitutionality of federal law. It’s a bit vague and the state may not parse the language.

Another Pathway to Legalizing Sports Betting?

According to the Albany Times-Union in November 2017, “Lawmakers are 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.”

We don’t yet know what those strategies might look like. At least the movement on concurrent resolutions would create one pathway for authorizing sports wagering if the other strategies don’t work.  

[Stay tuned at our Facebook page and Twitter @sports_handle for the latest]

Both the Senate and House have asked New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for an opinion on the legal effect of the proposed amendment. The opinion is not yet available on the attorney general’s website, so it is possible he has not yet issued it.

In response to the same request in February 2017, Schneiderman wrote that “If adopted, this concurrent resolution would create another exception to the general prohibition against gambling… and will have no effect on other provisions of the Constitution.”

Keep an eye on State Senator John Bonacic and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the New York Assembly racing and Wagering Committee and a big proponent for New York sports betting.

“Don’t be surprised if you see a state like New York put through legislation on this very shortly,” Pretlow told GamblingCompliance in August 2016. “I’m looking at challenging the feds on this, but I have more homework to do.”

Recently Legal Sports Report published possible draft legislation on sports betting in New York. The draft includes some of the (ludicrous)NBA, MLB-sponsored provisions for an “integrity fee,” or a direct cut of sports wagers, but in vastly more limited fashion than the leagues have succeeded in obtaining in proposed measures in other states.

Would New York just roll sports betting at the four commercial casinos in the event that PASPA gets struck? It’s possible. It’s all about keepin’ up with the Joneses — and the Tri-state area.

“When we did that constitutional amendment, we envisioned that in the event that the sports ban was eliminated federally that they could (start betting on sports) immediately,” said state senator John Bonacic in December, chairman of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering. “And you know, New Jersey is all geared up and Pennsylvania is all geared up, and to a certain extent, we’ve got to keep up.”

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