11/25/2011 2:35PM

Crist: New York restrictions defy belief

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It’s only 126 days until Palm Sunday and seven more until Easter, more than enough time for New York to repeal its antiquated and unreasonable ban on racing those two days. It should have been done years ago, and in 2012 there will be three more good reasons to change the law: the Aqueduct racino, the Fair Grounds Black Gold 5, and the Gulfstream Rainbow Six.

As things now stand, Aqueduct will not be allowed to stage live racing or accept simulcast wagers through its NYRA Rewards account-betting service on April 1 or April 8, the 2012 dates for Palm and Easter Sunday. This already was an absurd prohibition, completely out of step with the rest of the country and with other commerce within the state – you can drink, buy lottery tickets, visit your local peep show on those two holidays, but not bet on a horse race.

The opening of the Resorts World casino at Aqueduct last month makes the situation all the nuttier: No law prevents the slot machines and robot-dealt table games from running on those Sundays, so it will be business as usual at the casino but no racing and wagering at the track itself. If there is a theological justification for this bizarre piece of public policy, its mysteries have not been revealed.

If this indefensible contradiction is somehow not enough to convince lawmakers it is time to scrap the ban, they should consider that the way the racing and religious calendars coincide next year further discriminates against New York horseplayers: Those two Sundays are the closing dates of two major meetings, with mandatory payouts of jackpot bets currently scheduled for two days that many New Yorkers would be shut out of those pools.

Sunday, April 1, is not only Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day but closing day of the Fair Grounds meeting that opened on Thanksgiving with a new Black Gold 5 wager – a daily pick five where 50 percent of the net pool is carried over unless there is a single, unique winning ticket. It remains to be seen whether the new bet will attract much national interest and handle – the opening-day pool was just $5,465, with a $2,049 carryover to Friday – but the closing-day pool should be a good one because of the mandatory payout: Any carryover, and the entire net pool, will be paid out April 1 whether zero or 100 people pick five. New Yorkers could spend the winter playing the bet and then be excluded from participating on the day of the payout.

That was what almost happened last year with the final day of Gulfstream’s Rainbow Six, a 10-cent, six-race version of the Black Gold 5. Once again Gulfstream’s closing day is scheduled for Easter Sunday this year, which is April 8. Last year, because New York and Kentucky bettors would not be able to play it on Sunday, Gulfstream moved the mandatory-payout day to Saturday, which was an improvement but still left Easter-deprived horseplayers on the outside of playing a one-day mandatory-payout pool on Easter Sunday.

Every racing entity in the state is in favor of racing on Palm and Easter Sundays, and no one can argue with a straight face that lotto and slots are okay on those occasions but racing horses would be sinful. Still, no politician has been willing to sponsor a change, fearful of angering a tiny number of religious zealots who would accuse of them launching a War on Palm Sunday.

Perhaps, though, the racino situation and the growth of these national jackpot bets are enough to move the argument outside of religious territory. The prohibitions on those two Sundays stems from a time when racing was the only legal form of gambling in New York, and they make no common or legal sense in an era of always-open lotteries and racinos. If they can’t see that, perhaps the legislators can see that continuing these bans will only encourage more New Yorkers to open out-of-state betting accounts, shipping money out of state instead of through the New York tracks and OTB’s.

That reduces it to a pretty simple proposition: The Aqueduct racino was opened to step the exodus of local casino-betting betting dollars to neighboring states. How about opening the Aqueduct racetrack those two Sunday to do the same?