SCHENECTADY -- The state Gaming Commission took the initial step Monday toward allowing legal betting on professional and college sporting contests, though actual wagering is still months away.
A set of draft rules that won unanimous approval without discussion would allow sports betting only at the four state-authorized upstate full-service casinos, including Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady.
The rules, commission staff said, are designed to gets sports betting at those locations “running as soon as practicable," and to protect the integrity of sports contests. Staff said they are similar to rules in place now in states where sports gambling is legal.
Rivers, which is owned by Rush Street Gaming of Chicago, left no doubt about its plans to pursue the potentially lucrative new line of wagering.
"Rush Street Gaming looks forward to implementing responsible practices for on-premise sports betting at Rivers Casino & Resort," Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin said in a statement released by the casino. "We’re grateful to Governor Cuomo for making sports betting a priority in 2019 and to the State Gaming Commission for taking the first steps towards regulating this industry."
The proposed rules require casinos to obtain approval from the commission for any wagers they want to offer, including the sport and league involved. Betting on amateur sports would remain illegal, except on authorized college sports contests. The initial proposal is now subject to a 60-day public comment period before the commission can finalize them. Once rules are approved, sports betting wouldn't start until the commission approves plans from each casino.
The sports betting would need to take place in a separate "sports lounge" within the casino, according to the proposed rules.
The commission's action follows Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's call for the state to allow sports betting at the casinos. Rivers Casino opened in February 2017. The other upstate casinos are Del Lago in Seneca County, Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan County, and Tioga Downs in Tioga County. By past practice, Native American casinos would also be allowed to offer sports wagering if state-authorized casinos can.
"Let's authorize sports betting in the upstate casinos," Cuomo said on Jan. 15 in his State of the State address in Albany. "It's here. It's a reality, and it will generate activity in those casinos."
The state budget only projects $4 million in revenue from sports gambling for the upcoming fiscal year. The rules specify that horse racing, which has been legal to gamble on for decades, are regulated separately from the new rules, so the four casinos cannot start offering betting on horse races.
In 2013, New York passed a law authorizing construction of four casinos, subject to voter approval. A provision in that law authorized casinos, including Rivers, to offer in-person sports betting if it ever became legal.
In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, a federal statute that restricted state-sponsored sports betting to primarily Nevada. Since the ruling, legal sports gambling has opened in neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Other states have also legalized it or are expected to do so.
The Cuomo administration believes allowing sports betting at any additional locations, such as the Saratoga Casino Hotel, would require an amendment to the state Constitution, a complex multi-year process that ends with a statewide voter referendum.
A representative of Saratoga Casino Hotel, whose business has already been hurt by Rivers Casino, did not respond to a request for comment.