The bill, A5923, was referred to the Racing and Wagering Committee on March 24 by Assemblyman David Weprin, a Queens Democrat. It proposes an amendment to the New York constitution that would allow thoroughbred and standardbred tracks to open brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. It also dictates that all tax proceeds from such sportsbooks would go strictly to education.
The full summary of the bill, which also was forwarded to the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James for an opinion, is as follows:
“Authorizes gambling on professional sporting events and athletic events sponsored by universities or colleges at betting facilities located at thoroughbred and harness racetracks operating in this state, in simulcast theaters operated by off-track betting corporations and in any constitutionally authorized casino facility; provides that the proceeds of such gambling be applied exclusively to or in aid or support of education.”
Effort appears aimed at propping up tracks
Weprin’s bill could help racetracks attract more customers, but it might not have much of an impact on overall sports betting volume in New York, which has been dominated by the mobile market since it launched in January 2022.
Sports bettors in the New York City area can place bets now through their mobile devices or by traveling to an upstate casino. Three downstate casinos are in the licensing process and the state doesn’t expect proceeds from any of them to be available until 2026.
In their budget bills, Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Assembly both proposed using some downstate casino tax revenue to subsidize the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transit Authority, while the Senate proposed giving the MTA a cut of the new casinos’ licensing fees, set at a minimum of $500 million by state law.
Sen. Joe Addabbo, a Queens Democrat, wanted instead to use money from his proposed legalization of iCasino gambling to bail out the MTA, but the legislation did not receive consideration.
Taken as a whole, New York’s three biggest horse tracks — Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga — have experienced declining attendance for years. Even before the pandemic, public data showed crowds thinning from 2.3 million in 2001 to 1.6 million at that trio of tracks in 2019. Aqueduct is located in Queens, while Belmont is nearby in Nassau County.
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