Sports Betting in N.Y.: Is 2019 the Year?
The November 6 elections that delivered the machinery of New York state government into the hands of the Democratic Party is seen by some as a good sign that the Empire State is finally on the way to legal sports betting.
But, of course, it being New York, nothing is ever that easy. Take a recent state court ruling invalidating daily fantasy sports wagering, which has been legal since 2016, as unconstitutional. If not overturned by a higher court, it could put not only DFS on hold, but sports betting as well, quite possibly until a referendum on both issues is submitted to the state’s voters.
Still, longtime Democratic Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, sports betting’s leading champion in the lower house, is optimistic, saying regulation has “better than a 50 percent chance” of becoming reality in 2019.
Pretlow, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Racing and Wagering, told industry news site Sports Handle he believes the state Supreme Court ruling on DFS will not be upheld on appeal, and that in the two or more years that might take, some form of legislative work-around will be accomplished that will see sports betting “entrenched” in New York.
As for his abortive 2018 regulatory bill, which permits both land-based and remote wagering, he believes its chances are measurably better in 2019 with Democrats now in control of the Senate, too, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo re-elected to another four-year term, although Cuomo has yet to come out publicly in favor of Pretlow’s bill.
“I expect Governor Cuomo is most likely going to include sports betting as a revenue enhancer as part of the state budget process and things will proceed from there,” he said.
But Karl J. Sleight, a New York-based partner with the law firm Harris Beach, whose practice includes a specialty in gaming and racing issues, sounds a more cautious note. He told Sports Handle that legalization “is fraught with an abundance of ‘moving parts’ and still might require a constitutional amendment.”
One of those “moving parts” is the 2013 constitutional amendment that brought commercial casino gaming to the state. It allows for up to seven casinos. It also allows them to operate sports betting, provided the longstanding federal ban that was in force at the time was removed, which of course happened in May when the U.S. Supreme Court voided the ban as an unconstitutional infringement on states’ rights.
The question now is, does the 2013 amendment restrict sports books to the casinos, four of which—Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan County, Tioga Downs Casino Resort near Binghamton on the Pennsylvania border, del Lago Resort & Casino in the central Finger Lakes region and Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady—are up and running?
There is a lot riding on the answer. Experts believe a regulated New York market could become the largest in the U.S., potentially surpassing the entire United Kingdom by 2023. Gaming consultancy Eilers & Krejcik projects it will be the biggest in the country, with annual revenue of $1 billion within five years of legalization.
Not surprisingly, the four casinos have all concluded partnerships with established bookmakers: Tioga Downs with FanDuel Sportsbook, del Lago with DraftKings Sportsbook, Rivers with Kambi, and Resorts World with Bet365.
Then there is the Supreme Court ruling on DFS, which Sleight contends will not be as easy to circumvent as Pretlow suggests. He notes that the judge’s opinion in the case is “very thorough” and clearly says the part of the legislation dealing with DFS “did not pass constitutional muster,” adding, “As most people know, you can’t pass a law that overrides the state constitution.”
For now, though, with the state having filed a notice of appeal on the ruling, DFS remains in business in New York.
“Simply because the government is the losing party in case, it means, by filing the proper paperwork, an automatic stay is granted,” Sleight explained. “If you are a DFS player, this means that this decision and the impact of it is temporarily sidelined.”