Proposed Bill Would Allow NY Sports Betting At In-State Horse Tracks

Written By Dave Champagne on April 3, 2023
ny sports betting horse racing racetracks sportsbooks new york assembly bill

Currently, if bettors in New York wish to visit a retail sportsbook, they must visit one of the four upstate commercial casinos in the state, one of the tribal casinos or wait for the opening of three downstate casinos in the Empire State.

Perhaps, though, another avenue will soon open.

Assemb. David Weprin has filed a resolution, A5923, proposing an amendment to the NYS Constitution that would allow thoroughbred and harness race tracks to facilitate NY sports betting to the same extent as constitutionally-authorized casinos.

Details of Assembly bill to authorize sportsbooks at horsetracks

The bill, if passed, would allow for thoroughbred and harness horse tracks to join the retail sports betting landscape in New York.

As laid out in A5923:

“Authorizes gambling on professional sporting events and athletic events sponsored by universities or colleges at betting facilities located at thoroughbred and harness racetracks operating in this state, in simulcast theaters operated by off-track betting corporations and in any constitutionally authorized casino facility; provides that the proceeds of such gambling be applied exclusively to or in aid or support of education.”

Basically, if the bill becomes law, racetracks can operate sportsbooks, potentially attracting sports bettors to horse racing that could provide the industry with a shot in the arm, as sports bettors being exposed to horse racing may well enhance racing handle.

It’s the latest effort to include the sport of horse racing within the NY sports betting industry. Previously, Sen. Joe Addabbo had expressed an interest in integrating fixed-odds horse racing within New York sportsbooks.

A contrarian’s view of NY sports betting amendment

However, the advent of online sports betting in New York may cause the prospect of racetrack sportsbooks to be a figurative case of “closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.”

While some may assume that this may seem to be a no-brainer for the racing industry in terms of influx of patrons and the wagers they represent, Larry Swartzlander, head of the California Authority of Racing Fairs, doubted the revenue on-site sportsbooks could bring.

Last year, California saw a sports betting initiative proposed that would authorize in-person betting at racetracks. (State voters ultimately shot down all proposals for legal sports betting.) At the time, Swartzlander was skeptical.

If the law passed, Swartzlander told PlayCA, “Santa Anita can build a sportsbook. Who just closed down their sports wagering? Churchill Downs. It doesn’t work at a single, brick and mortar facility. Eighty five to ninety percent of wagers are on the internet. You’re not going to make any money.”

Scott Daruty, president of Monarch Content Management (which distributes simulcast signals for Stronach-owned race tracks), admitted expectations should be tempered.

“What we have seen from sports wagering in other markets, it’s not tremendously profitable,” he said. “I’m not saying it is unprofitable, but it is not a huge windfall. It’s not a game changer as far as changing the economics of racing facilities.”

Is sports betting and horse racing apples and oranges?

Furthermore, sports and horse racing have vastly different betting models. Figuring out how to enjoy success with NY horse betting can seem daunting to novices and newcomers.

Pat Cummings, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, specifically mentioned horse racing’s pari-mutuel model as a potential problem:

“Those wishing to get pari-mutuel racing to a single-wallet platform that reaches sports bettors wrongly assume those customers won’t care that a horse they bet at 10-1 when loading goes to 5-1 ten seconds after the start of the race, once all betting is reflected. That is the everyday reality in North American racing’s pari-mutuel landscape. Sports bettors know what price they are going to get when they bet. That experience is practically non-existent in U.S. racing today.”

Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AP Photo
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Dave Champagne

Dave Champagne is a freelance writer with a wealth of varied experience with local newspapers, websites, and podcasts, gained in tandem with an ongoing I/T career spanning the better part of five decades. Based in upstate New York, Dave entertains himself with sports and horse race betting as well as the occasional attempt at tournament golf.

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