The U.S. Supreme Court has done its part. Now it's up to New York State to decide whether to allow wagering on sports in the state.
The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that all but banned sports gambling across the country. The decision paves the way for states to give the OK to betting on the NFL, March Madness and the World Series within their borders and to tax the revenue generated by sports gambling.
In New York, four new casinos – the closest one to Buffalo is in Seneca County – have the easiest path to approval under current state law. But new legislation is required for college and pro sports fans to place bets in other venues or online.
"We were hoping for this. But we do know reality, and we know this is a first step," said Michael Nolan, chief operating officer of Batavia Downs Gaming, which is part of Western Regional Off-Track Betting. "We're going to need some favorable New York State legislation to really give the best experience possible to Western New Yorkers."
Officials with Batavia Downs, Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg and the Seneca Nation of Indians' three casinos all are waiting to find out what the court's decision means for them and what form legal sports gambling would take in New York.
State lawmakers could begin debating legislation next week, and advocates say New York needs to act quickly to keep pace with the legal sports betting in neighboring states. But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday said he doubted the Legislature would act on sports wagering this year.
“We haven’t reviewed it, and it’s nothing that we’ve talked about with the Legislature,” Cuomo told reporters in New York City, according to Spectrum News. “We passed casino gaming as you know, but there’s been no discussion beyond that.”
The Supreme Court ruling overturns a 1992 federal law that allowed sports wagering only in Nevada and, to a lesser degree, in Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
The case was rooted in former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s effort to bring sports gambling to that state and its struggling Atlantic City casinos. That move was opposed by professional and collegiate sports leagues, but the court's decision finding the 1992 act unconstitutional was widely expected, said Nellie Drew, who teaches sports law at the University at Buffalo's Law School.
Americans illegally bet $150 billion annually on sports, according to The New York Times, and states have long been eager to capture, regulate and tax some of that activity.
"There will be a lot of pressure to enact legislation to allow some form of sports gambling, because it's a tremendous revenue source for the state," Drew said.
Some states are further along than others in being ready to capitalize on the high court's decision.
In New York, a 2013 law that expanded commercial casino gambling in the state included a provision allowing the new casinos to offer sports gambling if Congress or the courts lifted the federal ban on that activity. The del Lago Resort & Casino in the Finger Lakes is among them.
The four new casinos now can apply to the state Gaming Commission for sports betting licenses, although one influential lawmaker said the Legislature still must pass a law detailing how sports gambling would work for the four casinos and everyone else.
State Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican who chairs the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, has sponsored a bill to legalize sports betting.
Under his legislation, the four casinos could reach "affiliate" agreements with racinos or other facilities that would bring sports gambling to those partner facilities, Bonacic said. "This way, those affiliates can share in making money," he said.
Gamblers who want to make wagers on a mobile app or on their computers would have to register as a customer with one of the approved casinos before placing bets online, he said.
Hamburg Gaming at Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs could offer sports betting opportunities at their venues through this provision.
Sports leagues, which have opposed betting on their contests for fear of inviting point shaving and other scandals, would earn revenue from legalized sports wagering in New York.
Bonacic's proposal would grant a quarter of 1 percent of each sports wager for what the bill and industry calls an “integrity fee.’’ The state, Bonacic said, could see up to $50 million in sports bet taxes, which would be set at 8.5 percent of revenues.
The Bills and Sabres declined comment Monday, saying they would defer to their respective leagues.
The legislation as drafted does not address sports gambling at casinos operated by the state's Native American tribes, including the Senecas.
Bonacic said including the tribe-operated venues could make it harder to get a bill through, and he said it's likely the state could tackle this in future gaming compacts with the nations.
"I didn't touch it," he said.
The Senecas on Monday issued a muted response to the court's decision.
“Now that the Supreme Court has created a path for greater availability of sports wagering in the United States, we will take a close look at the ruling and the potential opportunities it could offer the Seneca Nation in possibly creating another amenity for our casino guests to enjoy,” Seneca Gaming Corporation spokesman Phil Pantano said in a statement.
But the Oneidas, who operate the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Central New York, aren't waiting for the state's permission.
"The 1993 nation-state gaming compact authorizes the Oneida Indian Nation to adopt any gaming specification that is permitted in New York, without any further approvals by the state," Oneida spokesman Joel Barkin said in a statement. "The nation previously has adopted numerous games under this provision, and the nation now will adopt sports betting, too. In anticipation of today's ruling, the nation has made preparations to offer sports betting at venues throughout the Oneida reservation and we will be putting those plans into operation in the near future."
Gaming officials in this area welcomed the Supreme Court decision and said they want to make sure their facilities are included no matter what shape legal sports betting takes in the state.
Nolan and James Mango, chief operating officer of Buffalo Raceway, both say they haven't yet calculated how much legal sports gambling would help their bottom lines.
Batavia Downs Gaming is owned by Western New York counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester through the Western Regional OTB, and Nolan said taxpayers in the area would share in the benefits if sports gambling is extended to OTB properties. Nolan said many bettors prefer making wagers in person, but Western Region OTB would look to take part in online sports gambling, too.
"We do that right now with horse racing," Nolan said.
Hamburg Gaming at Buffalo Raceway is operated by Buffalo's Delaware North.
Nolan and Mango say they don't want New York to lose bettors to venues in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, something that's a distinct risk downstate.
"We're obviously hoping that our racino is a part of it," said Mango, who operated a sports betting operation in Mexico about a dozen years ago. "Hopefully, it's going to happen quick."
Bonacic said he is confident he can work with his counterpart in the Assembly, Westchester Democrat Gary Pretlow, to come up with an approach that satisfies everyone's interests in time for next month's scheduled end of the legislative session. Bonacic said he plans to introduce his bill as soon as Monday.
The state Gaming Commission, for its part, had little to say about the future of sports gambling here.
"We are reviewing this morning’s decision and its potential implications for the State of New York," spokesman Brad Maione said in a statement.