New York could be just months from allowing people to bet on professional basketball games, the National Football League, and the World Series.
Rivers Casino & Resort is already getting ready.
The state Gaming Commission on Wednesday released draft rules for sports gaming, launching a process that could let Rivers Casino & Resort and other upstate casinos offer sports betting by this summer.
That should pump new cash into the coffers of New York state and of upstate casinos including Rivers, which so far have failed to live up the original rosy projections of their 2013 casino license bids -- though they are nevertheless generating millions of dollars each year for state, county and city governments.
Rivers, which is part of Rush Street Gaming of Chicago, definitely plans to pursue the opportunity. Two of its sister casinos, SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, already offer sports betting, and Rush Street Interactive would be the sports pool operator for all the operations.
“It’s very exciting to be able to bring sports fans and sports bettors into the casino to place legal wagers for the first time," said Justin Moore, Rivers' acting general manager.
"I'd like to be -- pending Gaming Commission approval -- to be up and running within 90 days," Moore said in an interview Monday at the casino.
Rivers plans to turn a table game/entertainment room off the main gaming floor into a sports lounge, filled with large-screen televisions and both staffed and automated betting windows. "We'll show as much sports as we can," Moore said.
Moore would not discuss potential revenue from sports betting, but said that based on his experience when he worked in Las Vegas, the Superbowl is the No. 1 betting opportunity this year, followed by the opening and then Final Four of college basektball's March Madness and then the NFL's opening weekend.
Golf, soccer and boxing are also among the sports that the casino would like to take bets on, if the Gaming Commission approves, Moore said.
Moore said the addition of sports will increase activity across the casino's offerings. "It's really hard to forecast sports revenue," he said. "In Pennsylvania, what we're seeing is that it's another amenity that also drives a lot of people to the slots and tables."
At Rush Street's Pennsylvania properties, SugarHouse saw $10.8 million in sports handle in January, and more than $7.1 million in February, according to state Gaming Control Board records. Rivers Pittsburgh took in $9.5 million in January and $8.1 million in February. Both only began offering sports wagering in December.
Casino sports gambling could provide a legal outlet for some of the billions of dollars now bet illegally on sports contests, advocates said.
“Over the years the law has not stopped sports betting, instead it has created a $150 billion dollar industry that operates online, underground and offshore,” said state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, a member of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee. “Allowing sports betting in our upstate casinos brings sports betting out of the shadows and at a benefit to the taxpayers. It levels the playing field so we can create a responsible market for sports betting in a safe regulated manner.”
The draft rules are subject to a 60-day public comment period that will end May 20. The draft hues closely to what was outlined by commission staff at a Jan. 28 Gaming Commission meeting at which the commissioners agreed to go forward with sports gambling.
The earliest the commission could adopt the rules would be late May, though it has the option of taking longer, if there are substantive comments. Following that adoption, Rivers and the other casinos would need to submit applications for sports gambling to the commission for individual approval, leaving it likely that it will be into summer before the casinos can actually start taking sports bets.
Moore said the sports lounge design and some other application information has already been shared with the Gaming Commission.
The draft rules would allow betting on all professional sports, subject to each league and type of bet being approved by the commission. It would prohibit betting on amateur sports except for some college contests; however, betting in sports involving New York state-based colleges -- whether Syracuse basketball or Union hockey -- will be prohibited.
Betting on horse races -- regulated separately by the state -- will also be prohibited at the casinos.
The proposed rules will require that sports betting be done in a separate area from the main gaming floor of at least 500 square feet. Assuming the casinos partner with a larger sports pool operator, the pool operator will also be subject to commission review and approval.
The commission acted after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called for the state to allow sports betting, limited to the four upstate casinos. The other upstate casinos are Del Lago in Seneca County, Resorts World Catskills in Sullivan County, and Tioga Downs in Tioga County.
In 2013, when New York passed a law authorizing construction of four casinos, a provision 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.