New York City OTB Drops Plan to Open on Easter

New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., which faces action by state regulators for opening its parlors on Palm Sunday, April 13, has abandoned plans to open for business Easter Sunday, April 20.

NYCOTB officials said April 17 they believe the corporation is within its legal rights to open, but will instead work on getting legislation passed to permit it to open on the three days a year when pari-mutuel wagering is banned in the state.

"Because of the continued uncertainty regarding the issue of pari-mutuel wagering on Easter Sunday, as well as the position of the (New York State) Racing and Wagering Board, New York City OTB will not operate on Sunday, April 20," NYCOTB president Raymond Casey said. The decision was made after consultation with the regulatory agency.

Michael Hoblock, chairman of the racing board, said NYCOTB clearly violated state law by operating on one of the three days--Easter and Christmas are the other two.

While there had been indications NYCOTB was moving to offer betting on Easter Sunday, Hoblock said he had not been told. "Until the event happens, there's nothing we can do," he said when asked if regulators would move to keep the parlors shuttered.

Hoblock said the parlors handled $1.7 million on Palm Sunday, but he did not know how much of that amount would actually make its way down to the city's coffers. NYCOTB officials have suggested the opening occurred because the city budget is facing a huge deficit. NYCOTB officials were not available for comment.

Hoblock said the options are imposing a fine, which can total $5,000 for each violation, or "we could deal to some degree with their plan of operation."

Hoblock noted the board has no jurisdiction against individual OTB officials because OTB employees are not licensed by the board. Besides violating state law, he said the OTB's decision to open on Palm Sunday, despite warnings in advance by the racing board, is also not part of the corporation's operating plan as approved by the state. He likened it to a track violating the terms of its annual operating plan to race a certain number of days.

Hoblock is concerned about the precedent NYCOTB set by ignoring a 30-year-old state law. For years, efforts have been made to get bills passed permitting racing on days such as Palm Sunday, but lawmakers have rejected changing the law.

Said Hoblock: "Instead of resolving this legislatively or through a rule change or some other common way it's just, 'Well, we're going to go ahead and do it.' I don't know if that's the way to resolve a dispute."