It’s been a long, hard road to get there, but New York has finally taken a step towards joining the rest of the civilized world, and allowing sports betting on a small scale. The change was approved by the New York Gaming Commission on June 12th, finally putting the state on parity with thirteen other states which already allow their citizens of staking a wager on the outcome of a sporting contest.
It’s long been a mystery as to why New York – and states like it – have been so heavily opposed to sports betting for such a long time. Gambling has been around for as long as civilization has, and longer than even the written word. Six-sided dice dating back three thousand years have been found in what used to be Mesopotamia, and betting on the outcome of fights between animal was known to occur in China during the same period. The first-ever casino was created in Italy in 1638. Our purpose in telling you this is to point out that gambling isn’t a new, radical idea that poses an unknown threat to the hearts and minds of people. While objections usually center around religion or the risk of problem gambling, such arguments ought to be trumped by freedom of choice and personal responsibility.
At the same time as announcing their decision to permit limited sports betting – which passed with six votes in favor and no objection – the Gaming Commission also confirmed where that betting would be permitted to take place. The Tioga Downs, Rivers, Resorts World Catskills, and Del Lago casinos will allow customers to place bets on sports, as will every tribal casino within New York.
One place that customers won’t be able to place bets is through the internet. The Commission stated that making decisions that pertain to online gambling are outside their remit, and that the laws as they currently stand stipulate that all betting activity has to take place within physical casinos. There is still an outside chance that this stance will be relaxed – the matter is due to go in front of lawmakers once more before the current legislative session ends, which is the end of June.
If we have readers in New York who are considering rushing out to place a bet on a sports game, there are a few things they should know in advance. Firstly, the approved law won’t become binding until they’re added to the state register. The earliest date that could happen by is June 26th. The second is that even with the relaxation in the laws, it still won’t be possible to place bets on collegiate sports – or at least, not collegiate sports which are taking place within New York State. The argument for excluding collegiate sports from gambling is that bribery and match-fixing could become an issue if large wagers were placed on the outcome of a game. Professional sports players and teams are deemed to be less susceptible to bribery, and so the risk is reduced.
While the new law specifically allows sports betting within specific locations within New York City, it’s currently less clear what the picture looks like for the state as a whole. No locations outside of the city limits were announced as having been given approval, and without specific exemptions being granted, it seems unlikely anyone will offer the facility. This is another obstacle that could easily be overcome had the Commission decided to approve online betting, but those in the know feel there is little or no chance of this happening.
There are also still significant opponents to allowing an expansion of gambling, despite the Commission’s ruling. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been less than clear on his position on gambling, but recent proposals to allow sports betting to take place at kiosks – for example, kiosks inside sporting arenas – have been shot down. While they were initially met with approval, the Governor’s office has stated that it would be impossible to allow the construction of such kiosks without gaining approval from citizens via a referendum.
The decision of New York and other states not to permit citizens to partake in online gambling is a curious one. The hobby is permitted in most civilized nations in the world, and generates massive revenue for the states which do allow it. Pennsylvania has recently allowed its citizens the freedom to place bets on sports, and on traditional casino entertainment, through the internet. By doing so, it hopes to raise millions of dollars in tax revenue. As an idea of the amount of money that states which prohibit gambling are currently missing out on, casino gaming market revenue in the United States as a whole is currently worth more than $75bn. Given that fewer than half of all states permit online gambling, that figure could be far higher than it is. Much of that revenue would be taxable, which would make a sizable contribution to the treasury on both a local and national scale.
Regardless of what some individuals and pressure groups think of the morality of gambling, few can argue the fact that precluding civilians from doing so is a civil liberties issue. There are many people who have moral objections to drinking and smoking, but both activities are permitted and taxed, despite being much more damaging to the health of those who choose to do so. While nobody wants to see America become gripped by gambling addiction, the percentage of people who place bets in online casinos or play Slot Games who go on to become addicted is low.
There are also ways to assist those who struggle with gambling addiction without preventing others from enjoying the hobby. Self-exclusion has been proven to work in the UK, as has the limitation of the size of the stake that can be placed on any casino game. Placing a bet on the outcome of a sports match is part and parcel of enjoying watching sports for many Brits, and has become so embedded in the culture of sport that to take it away from them now would be to damage the fabric of the sport itself. Ultimately, in a nation that trusts its citizens to bear arms for their own defense – and possibly drink while in possession of those arms – it seems regressive not to also allow them to make bets through the internet, be it on sport or anything else.