As Online Casino Activity Lulls, Will Debate Over New York Horse Racing Take The Lead?

Written By Derek Helling on March 11, 2022 - Last Updated on March 14, 2022
Opposition In Legislature Arises For New York Horse Racing Expansion

New York, New York. That’s all the latest buzz in the legal gambling industry.

Whether it’s the meteoric rise of legal NY online sports betting, the potential for New York City casinos, or a possibility for online casino platforms that undoubtedly have gambling companies salivating, the state has quickly become the “it girl.” The attention might soon shift to the issue of New York horse racing, though.

Legislators have extremely divergent opinions of how the state should treat that industry now and in the future. Bills that are currently in committees of both chambers of the state legislature act as proof of that debate which could be the main event soon.

New York horse racing bills come out of the gate

Last November, New York Sen. Joe Addabbo introduced a new bill that, among other things, would legalize fixed-odds betting on horse races in the state. In addition, S7536 would allow the state’s racetracks to house sports betting kiosks.

At the time, the New York Racing Association cheered the bill. A spokesman called it an “enormous opportunity” as a win for the state and the future of horse racing in general.

Going a few furlongs down the record of the current New York legislative session presents a very different view.

Last month, a coalition of legislators from both chambers introduced a pair of bills in both the state General Assembly and Senate. Those bills are:

A07745 and S07260 would repeal tax exemptions for certain racehorses. A08468 and S07260 would redirect tax funds from video lottery terminal revenue that currently goes to support the state’s racetracks to other items in the state budget.

It’s theoretically possible for all of these proposals to become law in the state, which would have interesting effects on the horse racing industry. However, given the rhetoric from the sponsors of the various bills, that seems the most unlikely circumstance.

Legislators not mincing words on either side

Last month, in a meeting, a member of that coalition, New York Sen. Robert Jackson, stated the group’s motivation.

“At a moment when our working-class communities so desperately need funding for critical services like education, human services, and economic justice, to prop up a deadly industry that often abuses and neglects the horses in its care and is known for violations of workers’ rights, with $230 million of New York taxpayers’ dollars, is not right,” Jackson said.

According to Emilie Munson of the Times Union, Addabbo called the proposals ridiculous and said the bills would kill the horse racing industry in the state. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, the debate had the potential to be fierce.

Yet, the action on all the bills in both chambers has been nill for weeks. Work on the state’s budget for the next fiscal year has taken precedence in the New York Senate. That’s also shifted focus as far as the future of gambling in New York goes as well.

New York online casino and poker inclusion commands attention

Addabbo switched gears recently, putting forth a proposal to legalize online casino and poker play in the Empire State. While he acknowledged it was a long shot this session, it’s been part of the conversation in budget talks in his body.

That movement gained some momentum when Assemblyman Gary Pretlow introduced a companion to Addabbo’s online casino/poker bill in his body. Similarly, though, Pretlow made it clear he wasn’t going to push the matter as a stand-alone bill.

As budget talks have proceeded, the prospects of recent history repeating itself so soon have looked direr. Last year, online sports betting became legal as part of the state’s budget bill. It’s increasingly looking like the same won’t happen again this year with online casino and poker play, though.

Given Pretlow’s hesitation to push for it and Addabbo’s pessimism, that conversation could fizzle out altogether soon. That would clear the way for the dialogue to turn back to the future of horse racing.

Local and national organizations weighing in on issue

Most of the debate could center on the coalition bills as opposed to Addabbo’s fixed-odds proposal. The coalition, officially the Campaign to End Horse Racing Subsidies, has some strong allies. Those include:

  • New York Communities for Change
  • New York State Humane Society
  • PETA
  • Worker Justice Center of New York

There are also organizations outside the state legislature that have gone on the record against the quartet of bills. They have formed their own group called We Are NY Horse Racing. The members include:

  • Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties
  • New York Farm Bureau
  • NYRA
  • Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce

Both groups have started creating messaging to provide their spin to the public. The Campaign to End Horse Racing seems to be most in need of public support, too.

Committee leaders oppose subsidy repeals

Perhaps most important to the future of these bills, Addabbo and Pretlow chair the gaming committees in their respective bodies. S08485 is currently on Addabbo’s committee. The other three could very well go through those committees if they do proceed.

According to Munson, Pretlow also opposes the repeal of the current subsidies. Between Addabbo and he, the two have a lot of sway in whether their bills even come up for a vote in their respective committees.

It seems that Addabbo’s vision for the future of horse racing in the state is not only to maintain its current level of support but expand its offerings. Colleagues of his might not be opposed to fixed-odds wagering but want to see state subsidization of the industry end.

Those two visions are irreconcilable. Someone is about to be disappointed, and the gates on the track to one of these outcomes could open soon.

Photo by Cheryl Ann Quigley
Derek Helling Avatar
Written by
Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

View all posts by Derek Helling
Privacy Policy