When millions of New Yorkers get together Sunday for the Super Bowl, many will have a rooting interest that goes far beyond casual (or even rabid) fandom. They will wager cold cash on a Philadelphia Eagles victory, or a New England Patriots win, or a dozen other in-game happenings.
And many viewers also will have more than just a casual interest in the snacks and dips and sandwiches. High as the heavens on marijuana, they’ll be indulging full-blown munchies on what, for pot smokers, is the year’s grandest celebration of junk food.
Almost none of the wagers these New Yorkers place will be laid legally. Almost none of the pot they smoke will be bought legally. But it won’t be many more years before both the wagers and the weed will be legal in the Empire State.
That’s not because politicians suddenly will turn pro-pot or see the virtues of betting. And it’s not because they’ll have a eureka moment and say, “Gosh, whether people choose to smoke marijuana in the privacy of their own home or place wagers with their own money is none of my business, what with this being America and everything!”
It would be wonderful if our politicians suddenly did get a working understanding of liberty, but there’s no indication that’s going to happen.
These changes will occur because most New York lawmakers cannot stand to see other states get tax money Albany could reap and control. Nearby states are ready to cash in on sports betting and ganja. Our politicians, seeing neighbors move in or prepare to, are getting ready to make their own plays.
Last week, state Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican from Mount Hope, said New York lawmakers will likely take up sports betting as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court rules on New Jersey’s sports-betting legalization. That ruling is expected this spring, and experts guess the justices will rule that if Nevada, and to a lesser extent, three other states, can have federal approval for legal sports betting, so can the other 46.
That would immediately make sports wagering legal at New Jersey casinos and racetracks; make New York’s casinos, racinos, tracks and off-track betting parlors furious; and make New York legislate.
The marijuana situation is similar.
In his budget address two weeks ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he wants to study legalizing recreational marijuana. Last week, Vermont became the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana, including Massachusetts and Maine.
Recreational marijuana is going to be sold legally near New York by taxpaying retailers. So soon enough, it will be sold legally in New York by retailers.
This is what happened with casino gambling. New York lawmakers saw their residents’ money going to neighbors, first in New Jersey, then in Connecticut, then in every state bordering ours. The moral stand against gambling, silly anyway in a state that had legal betting on horses, lotteries, slots and in Indian casinos, evaporated in the face of fleeing revenue.
Illegal gambling and pot are so easily accessible in New York, and so rarely punished when pursued discreetly, that laws against them are a joke. And laws that are jokes need to go, because our rules must deserve respect to get it.
The best reason to legalize marijuana and sports betting in New York is because people have the right to do as they please. The second best reason is to erase farcical laws that are seldom followed. The worst reason to legalize them is to stuff more tax money into Albany’s maw.
But in a pinch, it will do.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.