By Daniel Wallach
June 6, 2019
Will "The World's Most Famous Arena" soon have to change its moniker to "The World's Most Famous Sports Book"? Perhaps, if several New York lawmakers get their wish.
In a bill amendment filed yesterday, New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who heads that chamber's Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, revised his mobile sports betting bill (S 17) to include in-person wagering at professional sports stadiums and arenas located in counties that do not have traditional gambling venues. This language appears to have been crafted with three specific venues in mind: Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center.
Specifically, the amendment restores the concept of an "affiliate"—previously defined to include horse racetracks and off-track betting (OTB) locations — that would extend sports betting (presently confined to four upstate casinos) to other locations throughout New York State.
Such affiliate facilities would essentially serve as satellite locations for the upstate casinos and would house self-service mobile betting kiosks that would be "owned and operated by the casino," and connected via the internet to the casino's server. This would ensure that the bets are deemed placed "at" the casino for purposes of satisfying New York's Constitution. (Note: Article I, Section 9 of the New York State Constitution authorizes "casino gambling at no more than seven facilities.")
Horse Racing Industry Concerns May Have Sparked The Amendment
The "affiliate" language had been removed in a prior iteration of the bill to ensure a clearer path for mobile sports wagering, which is viewed as more of a priority by New York lawmakers. However, the horse racing industry raised concerns that the jettisoning of the "affiliate" concept would leave horse racing interests completely shut out of sports betting in New York.
So just like that, the "affiliate" concept is back in. (And the mobile component of the bill -- which would allow mobile wagering statewide -- remains intact as well). However, Senator Addabbo's amended bill (you can read it here) expands the concept of an "affiliate" beyond horse racetracks and OTBs to also include "any professional sports stadium or arena" that is located "in a county that does not have an 'affiliate.'" In other words, any New York county that does not have a horse racetrack, OTB location or VLT facility would qualify to have sports wagering implemented at any "professional sports stadium or arena" in that county. The amended language is designed to ensure that every county has the opportunity to participate in sports wagering, whether through a casino or one of its affiliates.
The World's Most Famous Sportsbook?
So which sports facilities would qualify as affiliates? The easy and obvious ones are Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center because they are located in counties—Bronx County, New York County and Kings County—that do not have any horse racetracks, OTB locations or VLT facilities.
By contrast, Citi Field (where the New York Mets play), the Nassau Coliseum (where the NHL's New York Islanders play some of their home games) and New Era Field (where the Buffalo Bills play) would not qualify as affiliates—and, therefore, could not host sports betting kiosks—because they are located in counties that already have other affiliates, such as Aqueduct Racetrack (Queens County), Belmont Park (Nassau County), Buffalo Raceway (Erie County) and several Western OTB locations (Erie County).
Look For Self-Service Betting Kiosks
How will betting work at these sports venues? Obviously, if the proposed legislation passes, you will be able to bet on mobile devices, such as smartphones. But that would be true anywhere in New York State (assuming that the bill is passed and then signed into law), whether you're at home, at work or at a sports venue. Indeed, in New Jersey, you can already bet on your smartphone at MetLife Stadium (where the Jets and Giants play) and the Prudential Center (where the New Jersey Devils play).
What would be unique about the in-stadium betting experience in New York—and would differentiate it from New Jersey—is that those sports venues that qualify (MSG, Yankee Stadium and Barclays Center) would be permitted to have self-service betting terminals or kiosks, where patrons would be able to place wagers, similar to how wagering takes places in English soccer stadiums. That would certainly change the game-day experience at those venues, and potentially make them operational even on non-game days.
No In-Stadium Betting Until 2021
However, don't expect to see betting kiosks at Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden anytime soon. The bill amendment provides that in-stadium betting may not occur until at least 20 months after the effective date of the law, which would probably delay things until early 2021.
If this language sticks, New York would become the third U.S. market—after Illinois and the District of Columbia—to allow professional sports facilities to have on-site sports betting. This amendment also comes just several days after the Illinois Legislature approved legislation that would grant sports wagering licenses to "sports facilities" (such as Wrigley Field, the United Center and Soldier Field). So the Illinois legislation might have been the impetus for the latest bill amendment in New York State.
Assemblyman Gary Pretlow Delivers On His Cardozo Promise
Although the new bill language surfaced only yesterday, its genesis traces back to public comments made by New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow at a sports law conference held at Cardozo Law School in early March. I was the moderator of a panel called "The Future of Sports Betting in New York," which conveniently included both Assemblyman Pretlow—who is the chair of the New York Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering—and Senator Addabbo.
During the panel discussion, I specifically asked Assemblyman Pretlow about the prospect of in-stadium betting, and he told the audience that he would soon be amending his bill to "open it up to have affiliates such as Madison Square Garden." Ironically, Senator Addabbo, who introduced the in-stadium amendment yesterday, was less optimistic about that possibility, preferring a more "methodical" approach that would add new venues incrementally over time.
When their respective sports betting bills were amended following the Cardozo conference and did not include a provision for in-stadium betting, it would have been logical to assume that the focus—for the time being—was on adding mobile wagering (no sure thing) and that stadium-based betting would be addressed in future years. But something must have changed between then and now to expedite the timeline and trajectory for in-stadium betting—and we may have Illinois lawmakers to thank for that. (Note: Assemblyman Pretlow filed an identical amendment earlier today.)
The Deadline Is Soon Approaching
The obvious excitement over the scope of this amendment—horse racetracks, OTBs and sports venues are now in—is tempered by the fact that only 13 days remain in the New York legislative session and the amended bills still have to clear additional committees before a floor vote can take place. But as Illinois lawmakers amply demonstrated last weekend—and, indeed, as New York lawmakers showed in June 2016 when they legalized fantasy sports slightly past the deadline—a lot of heavy lifting can be done in a short period of time, even in just a few days.
The key here will be whether Governor Andrew Cuomo signals any support for the proposed legislation. In a recent radio interview, Governor Cuomo suggested that it might be "possible" to pass a mobile sports betting law this session but counseled lawmakers to "get the priorities done because these priorities are not easy". New York lawmakers appear to have heeded the governor's message, and are giving it their best shot. We will soon learn whether their best shot is a buzzer-beater.
This article was originally published in Forbes.com on June 6, 2019.