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A Harness Racing Track In Yonkers Could Help Shake Up Sports Gambling Across The Country

Yonkers NY harness racing
One of the oldest horse racing venues in New York may play a major role in the future of sports gambling in the United States.

New York Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, whose District 89 is home to the Yonkers Raceway, next month plans to introduce a bill legalizing sports betting in the state.

The chair of the  New York Assembly’s Racing and Wagering Committee, Pretlow was previously behind the effort to legalize daily fantasy sports in the state, which ended with New York enacting a law in 2016.

“Pushing sports betting is at the top of my agenda right now,” Pretlow told Gambling Compliance (paywall).

With interest in horse racing dwindling, sports betting at race tracks is seen by many as a potential way to attract fans and gamblers back to the raceway.

As Pretlow told the website Law360:

“The fact of the matter it is happening now. The fact of the matter is that billions of dollars are being wagered. The fact of the matter is that a majority of those dollars are going to entities that we don’t associate ourselves with.

I think that if people are doing it that it should be controlled. It should be taxed. It should be regulated. And it should be allowed.”

NY sports betting legislation will face challenges

Of course New Jersey has already tread down this path and no one was legally betting on the AFC or NFC championship games last weekend in Hoboken or Newark. Pretlow’s bill would almost assuredly face the same legal challenges as the New Jersey law.

Major sports leagues such as MLB, the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, and the NCAA all opposed the Garden State’s challenge to the federal prohibition on sports betting outside Nevada.

But Pretlow and other proponents of his bill are fully aware of this. The difference between New Jersey’s case and New York’s potential legal battle lies in the federal appellate courts. New Jersey’s appeals have been heard by the Third Circuit Court of Appealsand it hasn’t gone well – while New York’s appeals would be heard by the Second Circuit.

“What I am looking for is to split the circuits between the Second Circuit and Third Circuit,” Pretlow told Law360. “That might force Congress to do something.”

Other paths might lead to sports gambling

Pretlow isn’t the only state politician looking at ways to legalize sports betting in New York.

State senator Tony Avella has introduced a bill that would make betting on pro and college sports legal at casinos, racetracks and off-track simulcast parlors. Under Avella’s bill, which was co-sponsored by four of his fellow state senators, all proceeds from the legalized gambling would go to education.

Avella’s bill, though, looks to amend the state constitution, a complex process that could take at least three years to complete

Pretlow has argued that sports betting is already constitutional at commercial casinos under the current state law. His bill wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment and therefore would be able to challenge the federal prohibition against sports betting sooner.

“I really don’t think it is right that only one state [Nevada] can do something that should be allowed nationwide,” he told Law360.

Sports betting a states’ rights issue?

Passed in 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) banned sports betting everywhere but Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware.

Since New Jersey challenged the law, though, more and more states have begun to view prohibition of sports betting as a states’ rights issue. The attorney generals of Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wisconsin all filed amicus briefs supporting New Jersey’s appeals.

Proponents of sports betting have argued the federal government should recognize state gambling laws similar to how it treats states that have legalized marijuana.

“If the federal government can turn their head and say to the people of Colorado recreational marijuana, although still recognized by the feds to be a crime, is allowed to be legal in Colorado because the state decided it’s so, then they should equally respect New Jersey and its people who have changed the constitution to say we want to be able to bet on sporting events in a legal environment,” New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli told KYW Newsradio 1060 in November.