08/19/2009 11:00PM

N.Y. offtrack betting panel awaiting legal word

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. A task force set up to study the offtrack betting system in New York State is waiting on an opinion from the state s attorney general about whether out-of-state account-wagering operations can accept bets from in-state residents.

The opinion, which the task force requested after a June 24 meeting, has the potential to change radically the dynamics of account-wagering in New York, where 13 in-state account-wagering companies operated by tracks and offtrack betting corporations compete for customers with a handful of national operators.

If the attorney general issues an opinion stating that out-of-state operators can take bets from New York residents, then several large national operators such as Television Games Network that have previously avoided taking bets directly from New York residents would be expected to aggressively enter the market. In reaction to that opinion, however, in-state companies would also be expected to lobby for changes to the law to restrict out-of-state operators, according to comments made by officials of in-state companies at a meeting of the task force on Thursday in Saratoga Springs.

If the opinion goes the other way, several large companies with a significant presence in New York including Youbet.com, XpressBet, Twinspires.com, and several off-shore rebate shops would need to defend their actions if challenged by in-state operators. Considering the size of the market, that could lead to a prolonged legal battle touching on the ability of states to restrict interstate commerce.

The status of account-wagering is one of several subjects being tackled by the task force, which was set up earlier this year by Gov. David Paterson to issue recommendations on how to change the state s offtrack betting system. Currently, six county- or state-owned offtrack betting corporations operate in the state, in a system that has stubbornly resisted reform for decades despite perennial calls for change.

The task force will meet for a fifth and final time sometime within the next month, officials said at the Thursday meeting, and will then issue its report.