ALBANY – The owners of Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden could participate in online sports betting under a newly amended gambling bill introduced at the Capitol.
But Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres?
Looking for ways to resurrect their so-far stalled effort to bring online sports betting to New York State, two lawmakers have made changes to their legislation that would bring back an earlier version to let “affiliates” offer such kinds of wagers in addition to four upstate commercial casinos and several Indian casinos, including the Seneca Nation’s gambling facilities.
An affiliate can be an off-track betting corporation or racetrack. An affiliate can also be "any professional sports stadium or arena" in New York State,'' according to the legislation.
But there’s a catch: Such arenas or stadiums can run sports betting operations only if they are located in a county that does not have an OTB or racetrack. Erie County has both, meaning that Pegula Sports and Entertainment would be cut out of participating in an online sports betting arrangement with a casino.
The Bronx has no such entity, so the owners of Yankee Stadium could participate. Same with Manhattan and the owners of Madison Square Garden.
Queens? No go for the owners of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, because the borough is home to Aqueduct Racetrack, which would be considered an affiliate, according to an official this morning in one of the bill sponsor's office.
The amendment was introduced Wednesday night by Sen. Joseph Addabbo, a Queens Democrat who heads the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering committees. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Westchester County Democrat and head of the Assembly’s racing and wagering committee, introduced the same measure Thursday afternoon.
Pegula Sports and Entertainment leases the football stadium from Erie County. The county owns the arena that is home to the Sabres, and the City of Buffalo owns the land.
"This bill, as amended, would not provide the same advantages to Western New York sports fans that it would to the fans who attend professional sports events in other parts of the state," Pegula Sports and Entertainment said in a statement Thursday.
"As we have said all along, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that our fans have the same in-venue experiences as all other fans across the state of New York," the company added.
In the final weeks of the 2019 legislative session, the gambling industry is pushing a sports betting bill in New York State. The green light for sports betting came after a ruling last year by the U.S. Supreme Court to end a national ban on the wagering.
The state is moving ahead on plans to permit in-person wagering sometime later this year at four upstate commercial casinos. Through compact language, three upstate tribes, including the Seneca Nation, will also be permitted to offer the betting in-person at their casinos.
But the lucrative sports betting operations will come from online wagering, not from in-person betting halls. The Cuomo administration has raised legal concerns about online wagering, saying such sports betting would need to be part of a state constitutional amendment. That would take three years, if lawmakers and voters statewide approved the idea.
Enter the legislation by Addabbo and Pretlow. In their first version, the two lawmakers allowed online wagering at the four upstate casinos, none of which have been meeting initial revenue projections that were set when they were awarded licenses by the state.
That first version also allowed for creation of “affiliates," whereby a track or OTB could sign up as a partner with one of the casinos to participate in the sports betting venture.
A second version dropped the affiliate idea, leaving the casinos as the sole players in any future online sports gambling industry in the state.
The third version restores the affiliate language, but with changes that off-track betting corporations are not thrilled about. For starters, the bill gives strong protections for the Seneca Nation’s gambling exclusivity zone that they enjoy as part of their compact with the state to operate its casinos. The Seneca Nation would have to, in essence, be a part of any deal in which Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. would be able to offer online betting in the exclusivity zone, which extends throughout a huge area of Western New York. (The OTB is owned by the counties, as well as the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, in the region.)
The new version also makes it an option whether a casino would have to let an OTB become an affiliate. OTBs from throughout the state are set to discuss the changes in a conference call Thursday afternoon.
“We do appreciate the Senate and Assembly and governor’s office trying to include us in there. We’re just trying to work some better language into the bill," said Western Regional OTB President Henry Wojtaszek.
The new amendments, as with the earlier versions, would permit a person from anywhere within the borders of New York State — at home, or in the office or while sitting in New Era Field watching a Bills game or anywhere else with a connection to the internet — to make wagers on their electronic devices on professional sports contests. If the Seneca Nation or two other tribes did not consent to commercial operators offering sports betting in their gambling exclusivity zones, geofencing technology – like what New Jersey uses to block online sports bets from New York City – would be activated.
Unlike pro stadiums and arenas in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, the Buffalo-area facilities would also not be eligible, under the bill's provisions, to have sports betting kiosks located on site, such as backers envision could be installed in new sports betting lounges at stadiums.