01/24/2018 2:20PM

New York horsemen state case for slice of sports-betting pie

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Representatives of New York’s racing industry on Wednesday urged a state Senate committee to keep the sport in mind if the state legalizes wagering on other sports in the near future, a distinct possibility now that the U.S. Supreme Court is mulling a case concerning the practice.

During the hearing of the Senate Racing, Wagering, and Gaming Committee, three representatives of the state’s Thoroughbred industry told committee members that they support the legalization of sports gambling provided the legislature allows racing facilities to accept sports bets. Allowing racetracks and offtrack betting sites in the state to accept the bets likely would provide additional revenue to the tracks, some of which might flow to horsemen in the form of higher purses or breeders’ awards.

“When considering the future of sports wagering, we would encourage the state to utilize the existing network of racetracks and [offtrack betting sites] because it is the best way to ensure a widely available, well-regulated system that best serves New York and its residents,” said Joseph Appelbaum, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Legalizing sports wagering is being considered in dozens of state legislatures now that the Supreme Court has heard arguments in a case that challenged the constitutionality of a 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, that prohibits sports betting in the vast majority of states. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling this spring, and many experts have predicted that the law will be struck down, at least in part.

New York is taking a leading role in discussing the issue because it borders New Jersey, where the challenge to the federal law originated. If the federal law is struck down, New Jersey is expected to go full steam ahead in allowing sports wagering, and the state’s proximity to the largest metropolitan area in the United States, New York City, will mean an outflow of New York residents to the state.

The inclusion of representatives of New York’s racing industry on the hearing witness list – among a nearly equal number of representatives from a variety of other constituencies, including the NBA – was a strong indication that the New York legislature would be taking the sport’s concerns into account. In addition to Appelbaum, the racing witnesses included Chris Kay, chief executive of the New York Racing Association; Jeffrey Cannizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders; Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners of New York; and Don Groth, president of the Catskill OTB.

In anticipation of a ruling striking down PASPA, state Rep. Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Racing and Wagering, filed a bill last year that would allow sports wagering in the state but restrict the practice to casinos. Shortly after filing, Pretlow said at a conference in Saratoga Springs in August that he regretted that limitation, saying he should have included racetracks in the bill. Pretlow was a guest of the Senate committee hearing Wednesday.

There remain several legal questions regarding how the state would need to go forward to legalize sports wagering, including disagreements on whether the state’s constitution would need to be amended. If so, the bill would need to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions, which could delay the onset of sports betting to 2020 or beyond.