Lawmakers poised to jump-start sports betting

ALBANY — All bets are on that sports wagering — on both professional and college teams — will be coming to New York soon following a landmark ruling Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Legalized betting action on athletic contests could begin at state-regulated casinos and regional Off Track Betting corporation sites before the end of the year, according to state lawmakers involved in gaming legislation.


In a 7-2 ruling, the nation’s highest court found that a 25-year-old statute that effectively prohibited sports gaming is unconstitutional.

In anticipation of that ruling, two influential lawmakers, Sen. John Bonacic (R-Orange County) and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow (D-Westchester), have been crafting legislation that would allow existing off track betting sites and video lottery terminal parlors to join casinos in launching sports betting platforms.

“This is a blow to organized crime and a boon to the children of New York because any revenue that the state derives from this is going to go to education,” Pretlow told CNHI after the ruling was made public.

Pretlow estimated that the New York market has the potential to hit $6 billion a year in total wagers on sports.

He and Bonacic predicted lawmakers will act on legislation enabling sports betting before the legislative session ends next month.


Noting New York is home to the headquarters of a dozen professional sports teams, Bonacic said he sees the state as “fertile ground” for both sports betting companies and the betting public.

“We’re already in the gambling business in New York, and so I think we can do this in a way that is efficient and maximizes revenues for the state,” Bonacic, chairman of the Senate Committee on Gaming, said in an interview.

The state Gaming Commission, which regulates the lottery, race tracks, video lottery games and charitable gambling, would then promulgate regulations governing sports betting at any venues authorized by legislators, officials said.


The high court ruling was seen as a defeat for the professional leagues for baseball, football, basketball and hockey, as well as for the National Collegiate Athletic Association. They had been the key players in using the lower courts to block the state of New Jersey from making sports betting available to gamblers in the Garden State.

The majority decision, authored by Justice Samuel Alito Jr., held that Congress lacked the authority to impose the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, enacted in 1992.

“A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine,” Alito wrote.

The ruling determined that while Congress can regulate sports gambling “directly,” if it does not do so, then “each state is free to act on its own.”


The sports leagues have been pushing for federal oversight over sports gambling, questioning the practicality of individual states drawing up their own rules.

If the availability of sports betting platforms becomes widespread, it is expected to increase concerns about the integrity of athletic contests both at the amateur and professional level, said Jeff Katz, the former mayor of Cooperstown who wrote a book about the impact of the 1981 baseball players’ strike on Major League Baseball.

“We have a long enough history of gambling activity influencing outcomes, and so any increase in gambling is no doubt going to have an impact on things,” Katz said.


With the ruling coming amid a brawling New York political season, it didn’t take long for it to generate sparks on the campaign trails.

Marc Molinaro, the Republican challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called on the Democratic incumbent to refrain from accepting any gaming industry donations while special interests are lobbying in connection with what are expected to be new gambling rules. Molinaro argued that there should be a “transparent” process for bringing sports betting to New York.


While professional sports leagues have been public in discouraging betting on athletic contests, the associations that govern them have partnered in recent years with oddsmakers and data companies in ways that will allow them to profit from sports betting.

Following the ruling, a statement issued by Major League Baseball said: “We will continue to support legislation that creates air-tight coordination and partnerships between the state, the casino operators and the governing bodies in sports.”

The Major League Baseball Players Association also weighed in, with its director, Tony Clark, saying: “The Court’s decision is monumental, with far-reaching implications for baseball players and the game we love. From complex intellectual property questions to the most basic issues of player safety, the realities of widespread sports betting must be addressed urgently and thoughtfully to avoid putting our sport’s integrity at risk as states proceed with legalization.”

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