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Pegula execs push sports wagering at Bills, Sabres games

ALBANY – Betting from your seats on the action before you at a Buffalo Bills or Sabres game?

Pegula Sports and Entertainment is making it clear to state officials that they want their fans to be able to engage in online sports wagering from inside the venues at NFL and NHL games.

But, there’s a big if.

If online sports betting is legalized in New York State – which is facing an uphill challenge in Albany at the state Capitol.

On Wednesday, Pegula representatives worked the state Capitol, a couple of weeks after an influential downstate Assembly Democrat floated the idea that fans from their stadium and arena seats should be able to make bets on games at Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden.

The Buffalo teams’ representatives were in Albany today, according to sources with knowledge of their discussions, selling a parity argument for upstate and downstate sports teams.

The Pegula corporation did not specifically address the sports gambling issue in a statement issued Wednesday. It confirmed that it has hired a lobbying firm, Ostroff Associates, to represent its interests in Albany.

“Several legislative items are currently under consideration that could have an effect on our business operations and the fans’ gameday experience. As always, our fans remain our number one priority," said company spokesman Don Heins in a statement.

It added that the lobbying arrangement is unrelated to its stadium and market studies underway.

The company has registered with state regulators as a client of Ostroff, a firm headed by Rick Ostroff, who has long ties with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The Pegula company is paying Ostroff’s firm $7,500 per month, for a contract that began in February, lobbying records showed.

Cuomo this week again raised doubts about the legality of online sports wagering. His administration in January called any such betting illegal under provisions of the state constitution, saying the constitution would have to be amended by lawmakers – and via a statewide referendum – for any online sports wagering system to be enacted.

The issue is unlikely to be addressed in the budget, though supporters are pushing for some sort of a sports betting deal before the end of the legislative session in June.

On Wednesday, the state Gaming Commission issued regulations governing an in-person sports gambling initiative for four commercial upstate casinos, which could bring such betting to Seneca Nation casinos.

The state in 2013 already approved sports wagering for four new commercial casinos – including one located between Rochester and Syracuse.

Such betting was given two conditions. First, a federal sports wagering ban had to be lifted. That occurred last year, courtesy of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Secondly, the state needed to write regulations governing how the sports contests would be operated. Those regulations were sent out Wednesday for a 60-day public comment period. It means the affected casinos could be offering sports betting – but only in-person – before this summer.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Westchester County Democrat who has sponsored a sports betting bill, told a conference earlier this month that sports fans at Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden should be permitted to wager from their seats during games at those two sites.

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