ALBANY — Lawmakers in New York have little time left if they hope to quickly follow New Jersey in authorizing sports betting.
The state Legislature plans to adjourn for the year next week, giving supporters a short window to finalize the details and pass legislation. Pending proposals would allow bets at casinos, racinos and on mobile devices.
While the state Senate's Republican leaders are supportive, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has seemed reluctant. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed doubts about a bill passing this year.
Legal betting began last week in Delaware and starts Thursday in New Jersey. More states are expected to get in on the action in time for fall football. In addition, the Oneida Indian Nation plans to offer betting in its casinos in central New York.
Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican and the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said New York state risks losing out on millions of dollars in new revenue if it doesn't follow suit.
"People that want to engage in sports betting will just go to the competitive states around us," Bonacic said Wednesday. "They may go on the native American reservations. They will do what they want to do, and we will lose the money."
Gambling lobbyists and casino owners are mounting a last-minute push, hoping to insert the sports betting measure in the traditional political horse-trading that defines the last week of the session. They say illegal bets are already occurring and that legal wagers will raise revenue for the state and its struggling casinos.
Jeff Gural owns Tioga Downs casino near Binghamton, as well as a second New York racino and New Jersey's Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, near New York City. The Meadowlands plans to offer sports betting beginning later this year.
"It would be embarrassing if New York doesn't act," Gural said. "On the other hand it would be a bonanza for me at the Meadowlands. I just think it's idiotic that New York can't get this done."
The outcome could turn on politics. Senate Republicans are weakened, without a true majority, and holding on to the Senate's reins thanks to the support of a renegade Democrat, Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn. And Democrats are feeling optimistic ahead of fall elections that are expected to favor their party. That gives Heastie greater negotiating power and hurts chances for the betting bill.
Heastie has said he will leave the decision of allowing sports betting to his colleagues in the Assembly but doesn't appear in any hurry to pass the measure.
"My personal opinion?" Heastie told reporters last month, "I'm not a big fan of gambling."