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Sports Betting Bill Introduced in New York

Last week, the New York Post reported Sen. Tony Avella introduced a bill that would authorize wagering on professional sporting events in New York. Proceeds would be applied to education in the State.

This news isn’t surprising, considering last March Governor Cuomo reached an agreement with lawmakers to allow seven new casinos in the state.

For either new casinos or sports betting to have a chance to come to New York, a constitutional amendment is required.

To amend the New York Constitution, the proposed amendment must be adopted by two successive legislatures, and then approved by a public referendum. The current legislative session in New York has until June 21 to approve the measures.

The sports betting bill introduced by Avella, S.7401, would authorize

wagering on professional sporting events 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, as may be prescribed by the legislature….

Under the current language of the bill, you could place bets on professional sporting events at any of New York’s five tribal casinos or nine racinos, as well as at any other NY racetracks or OTBs. And, if commercial casinos are approved in New York, then you could place bets there as well.

Wait, but isn’t sports betting illegal under federal law? In general, that is correct.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”) is a federal statute enacted in 1992 that expressly prohibits states from operating a gambling system based on professional or college sports. Four states were exempted: Delaware, Montana, Oregon, and Nevada.

So how does S.7401 get around PASPA? Well, one day NYers might thank NJ for taking care of it.

Late last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced his State will proceed to take the steps necessary to offer sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and the State’s four horse tracks.

New Jersey is far ahead of New York in the process, as Governor Christie signed a bill into law in January 2012 that authorizes professional sports wagering in NJ. New Jersey will likely encounter in the near future efforts by federal authorities challenging such legislation on the basis of the Supremacy Clause. NJ will argue PASPA is unconstitutional.

Christie’s comments all but ensure an imminent showdown:

“We intend to go forward,” the Republican governor said. “If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us. We want to work with the casinos and horse racing industry to get it implemented.

“Am I expecting there may be legal action taken against us to try to prevent it? Yes,” the governor said. “But I have every confidence we’re going to be successful.”

Christie has a reputation of actually doing what he says he’ll do. This is already a great story, and the best is likely yet to come. I’ll address the merits of the legal arguments in a future post.

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