Gary Pretlow said he expects to introduce the Assembly’s version of the sports bill as early as May 31

Gary Pretlow said he expects to introduce the Assembly’s version of the sports bill as early as May 31

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New York Legislature Moving on Sports Betting

Lawmakers are advancing bill to legalize sports gambling before the ’18 session ends.

Lawmakers in New York say they are advancing efforts to legalize sports gambling in the state before the Legislature ends its 2018 session June 20.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said he expects to introduce the Assembly's closely watched version of the sports bill as early as May 31. It will not mirror precisely the bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Bonacic, but Pretlow said there will be no major differences from that version. The two legislators chair their respective chamber's racing and wagering committees.

The issue is seeing an army of lobbyists and executives descend at the state Capitol to push the effort in various—and sometimes competing—forms, including representatives from Thoroughbred and harness tracks, casinos and racinos, off-track betting corporations, international gambling interests, and the major pro sports leagues. On May 30, former New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi spoke up the plan with senators in a closed-door meeting and with Assembly members who eventually formed a line to get their photograph taken with him.

New York is among a number of states eyeing legislation to legalize sports gambling in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended the federal ban on the wagering that had been in place in nearly all states.

When it authorized more commercial casino gambling in 2013, New York lawmakers also permitted those four new casinos--now all open--to offer sports gambling if the federal ban was lifted by either Congress or the courts. The state's Gaming Commission still has to issue regulations before those four casinos can begin sports gambling. Three Native American tribes that run casinos are also looking at sports gambling offerings and claim they need no further state approval.

Up in the air is what might happen with horse racing in a sports gambling bill. Bonacic and Pretlow want to greatly expand sports gambling beyond the 2013 law by permitting it to be offered at other venues and, most sweeping, via online by bettors who are within the borders of New York State. They would more strictly regulate the gambling and tax companies offering the wagering.

Pretlow said New York needs to act now or it will see downstate residents going to New Jersey, which led the legal battle to legalize sports gambling, in order to make sports bets.

"We have to get this done and get it done right the first time,'' Pretlow said.

Bonacic recently amended his legislation that put some limitations on horse racing events compared with others. It specifically exempted horse racing from the covered list of activities defined for the purposes of sports gambling. Officials say the senator does not want to disrupt the complex structure already in place for horse betting that sees revenues flow to a number of sources, including the state, tracks, OTBs, horsemen and breeders' accounts.

In another section of the revised bill, though, it permits casinos in New York to offer horse betting if they also hold a racetrack license—such as the new casinos in the southern Catskills near Monticello harness track and one near Binghamton in the southern tier. If they don't hold a track license, a casino could offer gambling on horse racing if they partner with a regional OTB corporation, which would then process the wagering.

The Bonacic bill would permit racinos, such as the one at Aqueduct Racetrack, and the OTBs to offer gambling on professional and collegiate sports events if they strike an affiliation deal with one of the full-scale commercial casinos in the state. Those outlets, though, would be permitted to offer self-serve betting kiosks for sports wagers, but not sports betting rooms with tellers.

The biggest change in the Bonacic bill from the original version introduced in March is permission for bettors to sign up for mobile accounts from anywhere in the state, including on their smart phone from their living room. The original version had required people to travel to a casino or "affiliate" location, such as a racetrack-based racino, to physically sign up for a mobile account. Officials called the idea especially impractical for New York City residents.

It remains up in the air whether any sports bill, let alone the current versions, get passed before the session's end in three weeks.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown little interest in pressing ahead immediately with the matter, saying the state needs to study the issue further and that there was not enough time left in the session to resolve all the issues that the topic raises.