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Editorial: If we're going to have sports betting, do it right

Lobbyists for gambling interests are making a full-court press in Albany these days to expand opportunities for New Yorkers to place bets on sporting events. In-person betting on sports is expected to be legalized at upstate casinos, but there’s a push to allow online betting on mobile devices. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s reaction to that is: Hold the phone.

We agree. Getting sports gambling right is more important than doing it soon.

The State Gaming Commission this year affirmed that sports gambling could take place in person at four casinos: Del Lago Resort & Casino, in Tyre; Tioga Downs, near Binghamton; Resorts World Catskills, in Monticello, and Rivers Casino, in Schenectady.

There is debate about whether betting via smartphone would be legal if the computer servers processing the bets were located within the casinos. Cuomo says no, maintaining that the state constitution would need to be amended to allow mobile sports betting.

“I’m not a fan of the new mobile sports betting,” Cuomo said this month.

As with the legalization of marijuana use, the governor is right to urge prudence in the expansion of legalized sports betting. There are a number of outlets for gambling already, including casinos, “racinos” with slot machines, horse racing tracks and OTB parlors, etc. When gambling turns into an addiction, there’s a social cost in treating it that gets passed on to everyone.

New York residents already spend thousands of dollars betting on sports illegally. Making those bets legal, and getting a cut in tax revenue, no doubt appeals to lawmakers trying to figure out how to make the state budget balance.

But the need for a quick shot of revenue has to be tempered by the desire to ensure that sports gambling is done legally and with our eyes open to its consequences. State-sponsored gambling such as the New York Lottery is already a sort of regressive tax on the poor, drawing much of its revenue from ticket buyers with the least amounts of disposable income.

In addition to casino and other gambling interests that would like to see sports betting expand, the professional sports teams have a stake in it, too. Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the company of Buffalo Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, hired a lobbying firm to make a push in Albany for sports betting, joining Madison Square Garden and other sports entities, which would like to see their patrons able to place bets from their seats.

Even if a team or sports venue doesn’t earn a cent from a mobile wager, betting on games helps drive interest among fans. Betting on whether the winning team will win by a big enough margin to cover the point spread can hold a fan’s interest during a losing season.

A change in the state constitution requires passage by two successive, separately elected Legislatures and then a statewide referendum. Using that scenario, a sports wagering question could go before voters in 2021.

It’s a good bet that sports betting will expand in New York, but there is no reason to rush through a new law that could be thrown out in a legal challenge, wasting both time and money.

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