By Tatiana Zarnowski
Off-Track Betting sites in New York state are looking to add another day to their calendar — Palm Sunday.
Current state law prohibits racing and wagering on Palm Sunday, as well as Easter and Christmas, although racinos are open for video gaming and the New York Lottery sells tickets on Palm Sunday.
OTB operators would like to allow betting at simulcast out-of-state races on Palm Sunday and say that the state and local communities would benefit from allowing racing on that day as well.
“If we don’t offer our patrons the availability to wager with us, they will still bet,” said John Signor, president and chief executive officer of Capital OTB based in Schenectady.
Signor said bettors will go to out-of-state Internet sites or other places where local communities don’t get the revenue from wagering like they do when people bet at the OTB sites.
“This is an antiquated law that really should be changed to make us more competitive with out-of-state wagering sites.”
Capital OTB has branches and “EZ bet” locations in 16 counties, including Schenectady, Albany, Rensselaer, Fulton and Montgomery, all of which receive 5 percent to 10 percent of the amount wagered, Signor said.
For Palm Sunday, that could amount to $25,000 to $50,000 that would be divided among municipalities, he estimated.
Palm Sunday this year is April 5.
Although New York Racing Association tracks don’t operate on Palm Sunday, many out-of-state tracks do, including Santa Anita in California, Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, Manor Downs in Texas, Remington Park in Oklahoma, Turf Paradise in Arizona and Sunland Park in New Mexico.
Few tracks run on Easter Sunday or Christmas Day, so the OTB operators haven’t pushed to change the law for those holidays.
Racinos like Saratoga Gaming and Raceway that offer simulcast racing and betting can’t accept those wagers on Palm Sunday either, although their video lottery terminals are open for use.
New York City OTB rocked the boat by opening on Palm Sunday in 2003, citing the 1973 law that allowed “racetracks” to open on Sundays except the three holidays and noting that the OTBs don’t have racing on-site.
The state Racing and Wagering Board disagreed, slapping the OTB operator with a $5,000 fine.
Signor said unless he gets word from the Racing and Wagering Board that it has changed its mind about the law, he and other OTB operators will lobby the state Legislature to change the law rather than arguing that the law doesn’t apply to them.
Signor said he and other presidents from the six OTB operators in New York state met with Gov. David Paterson recently and plan to meet with the Senate majority leader’s staff.
“There’s not a whole lot of resistance to the issue. It’s just when it gets down to taking action on it, it doesn’t seem like a priority,” Signor said. “We think it’s kind of a no-brainer in this environment.”
State Racing and Wagering Board spokesman Joe Mahoney said no one has made a formal request to the board to reconsider its legal opinion on the Palm Sunday issue, but it would do so if asked.
“We’re of the belief that racing is a vitally important industry to the state. We’re open to any and all ideas that would pump new vitality into the industry,” Mahoney said.