In New York you can wager $100,000 on a horse, but apparently not $5 on fantasy football. This defies logic. The state constitution bans gambling, stating there can be “no lottery or the sale of lottery tickets, pool-selling, bookmaking, or any other kind of gambling.”
But for decades the state has carved out exceptions. In 1939, the constitution was amended to allow betting on horses. Approval for bingo games run by nonprofits and religious organizations came in 1957. Voters approved an amendment to add the state lottery in 1966, and then other charity gambling in 1975.
That left the door open for Indian casinos when federal law changed in 1988 to say any state that allowed any casino games, even if only for church bazaars, couldn’t bar Indian nations from building casinos on reservations. Then in 2013, New Yorkers approved full casinos, but only seven, and only upstate for seven years.
Now New York has racinos, including the crowded ones at Aqueduct and Yonkers with computerized table games, robots and videos, even a roulette wheel under glass, but no human croupiers. It has six off-track betting authorities. It has the once scandalous New York Racing Association with its tracks and its own website and off-track operation. It has approved slot parlors for Long Island that can’t get open. It has approved several casinos to revitalize the upstate economy that haven’t yet been licensed; but that very same constitutional amendment says similar casinos can’t be sited downstate until 2020. And it has the big jackpot lotteries. And scratch-offs.
With all that, however, online daily fantasy games are verboten. That’s why the DraftKings-FanDuel dispute perfectly captures the idiocy, and perhaps the beginning of the end, of this legal contraption.
State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has gone to court to stop the two companies from taking action on daily and weekly sports fantasy contests. Customers create squads of players to compete against each other in statistical performance battles. The big business aspect of it is rather new and it’s not specifically permitted in the state constitution. DraftKings and FanDuel both claim it’s technically not gambling. A state Supreme Court justice who heard the case last month will likely stop the companies from letting New Yorkers play a game that, for most of us, is harmless.
There is little rhyme or reason to what New Yorkers can and cannot gamble on, and it differs dramatically across the state. All sports betting is illegal in the state, but readily available illegally. Some legal places have only video casino games and others allow live dealers. Why?
There are cynics who say that laws are written to allow gaming only when the state gets its cut and then bans it when it doesn’t. They are only half right. Legislators and the governor could approve, regulate and let the state profit from most any gambling, from daily fantasy sports to Texas hold ’em.
The lack of a clear state plan on gambling is also a signficiant hindrance in the redevelopment of big parcels like Belmont Park, which could host year-round racing if the track were winterized and added 1,000 video lottery terminals. It’s the same for Aqueduct, where the Resorts World casino already operates 5,000 machines, but where plans for a convention center and full casino faltered a few years ago.
Nor do local municipalities benefit from the current system. Nassau and Suffolk county residents have little legal recourse to stop planned VLT parlors run by OTBs, because the recent change in state law excused siting of the venues from all local zoning laws.
The state’s gambling rules have been amended beyond their usefulness. It’s time to start from scratch with clear gambling laws that make sense in terms of revenue, regulation, player convenience and the role of communities that seek to control locations.