ALBANY –The push to legalize sports gambling in New York this year is on.
Advocates, from casino companies to former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, descended on the state Capitol Wednesday in a push to legalize wagering on pro and collegiate games. They want a law before the Legislature ends its 2018 session in mid-June.
The effort comes after the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lifted the federal ban on states such as New York to permit sports wagering.
“I think the law is coming so I think it’s important for New York to be on the forefront and get something passed … this session," Girardi said after he and lobbyists for Major League Baseball left a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans. Girardi then headed down to take photographs with a line of lawmakers from the Assembly.
The sports star power comes as the push intensifies to legalize sports gambling before the session ends on June 20 and, for some advocates, to ensure the form of wagering is in place in time for this year’s NFL season.
“It depends on what the members want to do," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said a couple of hours before he joined Girardi outside his office for a photograph and brief chat.
As part of a casino expansion effort in 2013, New York already agreed to permit sports wagering at four new commercial casinos if the federal ban was ever lifted either by Congress or the federal courts. A number of states are already considering how they might legalize and regulate sports betting. Sports wagering at those casinos cannot happen until the state Gaming Commission issues regulations, and the Cuomo administration has not offered a timetable for that to occur.
The lobbying fight in New York includes a debate on whether to expand the 2013 authority beyond the four casinos – located in Seneca, Schenectady, Tioga and Sullivan counties – to other locations, such as off-track betting parlors and racetrack-based casinos. Mostly, though, advocates for the effort want to enable online sports wagering within the geographic boundaries of New York State, allowing gamblers to bet from their couch, office or even from the seats of a live pro or college game.
A bill has been introduced in the Senate to expand sports wagering to online platforms and to permit the state to regulate and tax the industry. Pro sports leagues, once sharply opposed to gambling on their products, are now working the halls of the state Capitol to ensure they get a slice of the revenues.
Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican who is sponsor of the Senate bill, said he believes the Legislature can pass a sports gambling bill before session ends on June 20. “The problem I see, if any, is the governor’s behavior if the Legislature passes a sports betting bill,’’ said Bonacic, who is chairman of the Senate racing and wagering committee.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has sought to slow down efforts to enact a law in June, saying the issue needs to be studied more and that there isn’t enough time before lawmakers end their session. “I know there’s enough time," Bonacic said, noting the state enacted major gun control laws several years ago with about two days’ worth of talks.
Heastie said the issue has not yet been put before Assembly Democrats for a decision on whether to proceed with a sports gambling deal. Asked for his personal views, he said, “I’m not a big fan of gambling.’’ He did, however, vote for the 2013 casino bill, one of the state’s biggest-ever gambling expansion efforts.
Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly racing and wagering committee, said he expects to introduce a sports gambling legalization bill by sometime Wednesday. He said its language will be close to the Bonacic bill and with no major differences.
“Members keep telling me they want to do it," Pretlow said of his fellow Assembly Democrats who control the 150-member chamber. “The Speaker may not be happy, but it’s for the good of the state," he added.
Pretlow said his bill, like the Senate one, will permit online sports gambling in New York. “That’s where life is now,’’ he said of online betting authorization as opposed to requiring gamblers to travel to a specific facility to wager on a sports contest.
One issue he said still needs to be resolved is how to put some sort of time restriction on what are called “in-game” wagers done via the internet. Besides betting on a game’s outcome, there is a vast array of potential sports gambling wagers, such as whether a certain player will hit a home run or make a touchdown reception at a certain point in a contest. Pretlow said he wants a provision to cut off bets, for instance, five minutes before the outcome of a certain kind of in-game wager.
“The time is definitely now. If we don’t get this done now, we won’t be able to do it until next year. It’s a six-month loss of revenue. As my old grammar school proverb says, ‘strike while the iron is hot,’ and this is the time to do it,’’ Pretlow said.
Girardi said he was in Albany to encourage the Legislature to pass a law “that basically protects the integrity of the game."
How might that be done specifically in a sports gambling bill, he was asked. “I wouldn’t know where to begin … It’s for them to work it out,’’ he said of the pro sports leagues, casinos and lawmakers.
After this week, the Legislature has two weeks left in its session. Speculation of an early departure by lawmakers was rejected by leaders in both houses on Wednesday. The odds of a sports gambling bill passing before June 20 were uncertain Tuesday, though at this point two years ago many insiders were predicting a non-start to another gambling expansion effort: legalization of daily fantasy sports. The measure passed well after midnight in the closing hours of the 2016 session.