Legality of NY Racino Games Questioned

Legal questions have been raised in a proposed expansion of New York racino games.

Having failed to get a law approved permitting racetrack casinos to offer electronic table games, New York Gov. David Paterson’s Lottery Division is moving ahead with plans for the new gambling devices at the state’s eight racetrack-based casinos. But a lawyer who has sued the state over past gambling expansions said the Paterson administration may be playing with legal fire.

“The key is whether the player is making a decision in which the outcome is anything other than pure chance," said Cornelius Murray, who has argued gambling cases around the state in the past decade.

State lottery officials at a gambling conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., June 23 said they are now planning a program in which racetrack casinos can install electronic games such as 21, craps, and roulette.

“It enhances our ability to make our casinos more competitive," said Jennifer Givner, a lottery spokesperson.

Uncertain, though, is how many of the devices and precisely which kinds will be permitted. Also unclear is how much space the facilities will need for the new games, or if they will be allowed to replace existing video lottery terminals with table games.

The state Senate recently passed legislation permitting the expansion of the electronic games. But the Assembly, whose members have been more vocal with concerns about further growing in New York an industry with potentially addictive gambling devices, balked and finished up its 2009 regular session June 23 without considering the bill.

“Now Lottery says we don’t need the legislation after all. Why did they introduce a bill they say is not needed?" Murray said.

That the legislature did not give its authority for the games could be legally significant if the lottery proceeds, Murray suggested.

The lawyer said the state will cross the legal line if the games have any element of skill to them. He said the legality of the lottery is based on the premise that its offerings are games of chance.

“The games are supposed to have an even chance for all New Yorkers to win “whether you are a genius or an idiot," Murray said. “It’s supposed to be total luck."

If the new games feature sessions in which the bettor must make some conscious decision that will affect the outcome of the game, Murray said: “To me, it’s illegal."

“Electronic table games are considered predominately games of chance," Givner said. “That’s why games such as 21, roulette, and craps are among the games we’re considering."

Such games, she said, are “not predetermined."

Givner said the timetable for when the new games might be given final approval by the agency has not yet been determined.

“The New York Lottery is prepared to move forward," she said. “We’re currently having ongoing discussions with vendors in the industry to determine the best options for our casinos."