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Is sports betting inevitable in New York State?


On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a federal ban on sports betting is unconstitutional. The ruling, based on a New Jersey case, allows states to decide for themselves whether to allow it. New York State allows gaming, from Native-run casinos to racinos that host video slots to Off-Track Betting centers. The Supreme Court ruling raises the question: will sports betting soon join the list of gambling options in the state?

Four commercial casinos operate in New York State with Albany's blessing: Del Lago in Tyre, Resorts World Catskills in Kiamesha Lake, Rivers Casino in Schenectady and Tioga Downs in Nichols. Additionally, the state oversees racinos, including Batavia Downs and Hamburg Gaming, as well as Off-Track Betting facilities. 

As of now, sports betting is not included among the gaming options at those facilities. Now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way for states to allow it, many believe it's only a matter of time before people can place bets on professional and college football, basketball, baseball and other major sports. 

First, though, new legislation would be required, not only to let state-sanctioned casinos allow sports betting but for racinos and OTB centers to host it as well. 

"According to the current legislation in place, which was passed in 2013, you have to go onsite to bet at those facilities, which would leave out Manhattan and Long Island and Buffalo and Rochester and Niagara Falls and all these other areas," said Henry Wojtaszek, president of Western Region OTB. "They're working on a piece of legislation that would allow the racinos and OTB operations that we currently operate to have sports betting in those facilities too."

Monday's Supreme Court ruling even caught the attention of the Seneca Nation. The Seneca Gaming Corporation currently does not offer sports betting at its three Western New York casinos. In a written statement released in response to the court decision, Seneca Gaming Corporation president and chief executive officer Holly Gagnon said: "We are pleased about the US Supreme Court ruling. Opening up sports betting will be a benefit for all."

State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello was not surprised by the Supreme Court ruling. Acknowledging the already existing gaming options in New York State, including Native-run and non-Native facilities, the retired judge and attorney turned legislator believes sports betting is simply an extension of options that will become available.

Morinello's district includes the City of Niagara Falls, which has been struggling with a multi-million dolar budget deficit since the cessation of payments by the Seneca Nation under a Casino Compact that New York State is now seeking to challenge in arbitration. The Assemblyman was asked if sports betting might offer revenue that could bring some relief to Niagara Falls. 

"The only fallacy I have heard up to this point is they're using the 'additional revenue' argument. I think 'additional revenue' is a bad premise to begin from," Morinello said. "As soon as you talk about additional revenue, the first thing most individuals look to is 'how do we spend it?' and not economizing."

Morinello warns that adding sports betting to gambling options will also harm many people, especially economically underprivileged individuals, who would have a new way to feed a gambling habit. Professionals who work with problem gamblers also fear the addition of sports betting will lead to an increase in gambling addiction, especially in a market where the community passionately rallies around its pro sports teams.

Matthew Jost, a licensed clinical social worker, says gambling brings a thrill and to most people, it's fun to play. Jost admitted even he has participated in Super Bowl squares and won prize money. But having sports betting available in New York, he told WBFO, will be trouble for existing addicts and could even lure others into a troublesome habit.

"New York State has a council on problem gambling and they do have some good supports in place. But rest assured, you're going to see more people with issues as the opportunity increases ," he said. "They should be ready. People are going to get hurt more, there's no question about it."

Among the problems with gambling addiction, Jost noted, is that the warning signs are not as easy to spot as in cases of drug or alcohol addictions. 


Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.