Commentary

Prohibition alive and well

It's time to allow wagering on Easter and Palm Sunday in New York

Updated: April 21, 2014, 9:09 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

You would think there would be stiff competition for the title of the dumbest thing in horse racing. When it comes to the misguided, illogical and counterproductive the sport never comes up short. But nothing has ever topped or ever will top New York's ban on betting on horses on Easter Sunday and Palm Sunday.

That's right. Not only must all New York racetracks close on Easter and Palm Sundays, but New York residents also are not allowed to place bets with their Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) accounts on out-of-state tracks that are running.

Sunday racing was legalized in New York in 1975, but in order to appease some legislators it was agreed that the tracks could not run on Palm or Easter Sundays. Never a good idea, the Sunday ban has only grown more outrageous, more ridiculous over the years.

It's so ridiculous that one gambling activity at Aqueduct (slots) is allowed while another (betting on horses) is not.

In a country that abides by the tenants of the separation of church and state, does the state government really have the right to tell a horseplayer he can't bet on two days largely recognized as Catholic holidays? So why isn't betting on horses illegal on Passover or Yom Kippur? During Ramadan? And why betting on horses? Would it necessarily be any more ridiculous to declare it's against the law to eat bacon on those days?

Since 1975 the ban has gone from simply dumb to incredibly hypocritical. Back in the day, horse racing was the only form of legal gambling, so you could at least argue that gambling shouldn't be allowed on those two days. Thirty nine years later New Yorkers have casinos and they have lotteries. Are lottery sales halted on the two Sundays? No. Are the casinos forced to close on the two Sundays? Of course not. It's so ridiculous that one gambling activity at Aqueduct (slots) is allowed while another (betting on horses) is not.

So, on Easter Sunday in New York, you can blow your money on the slots at Aqueduct or Yonkers, you can drink as much as you want at any bar, you can play the lottery at a convenience store and you can get a lap dance from a young lady at FlashDancers NYC. But you can't bet on a horse. You can't even bet on a horse running in another state on the Internet.

This year, for some New Yorkers the prohibition is particularly painful because it has made it impossible for horseplayers to chase the popular Rainbow Six at Gulfstream. Entering Easter Sunday the carryover pool was $5.3 million and it would be criminal should the jackpot get paid without anyone in New York being able to go after it.

The law is nothing less than insane and everyone knows it yet it never goes away. Makes me proud to live in New Jersey.

This And That: Is it just me or is this, outside of California Chrome, the most blah group of Kentucky Derby contenders ever? ... It's great that so many trainers are pledging to make their vet records public, but if a trainer and a vet were truly doing something illegal why would they ever jot down the bad stuff in any records that are going to be made public? ... Zensational is a great name for Zenyatta's first foal. Well done ... What do PETA and the New York Times have in store for horse racing during Derby Week? Can't imagine they're going to be quiet the one week the public is actually paying attention to horse racing ... Hunch play of the year? On the day before Easter the winner of the Star Shoot Stakes at Woodbine was Zensational Bunny. She paid $8.70 ... Please run Wise Dan in a Grade I dirt race this year. What do they have to lose? ... If no one is going for the Triple Crown the best race on Belmont Day won't BE the Belmont Stakes but Beholder-versus-Princess of Sylmar in the Ogden Phipps ... Worst horse to ever have a race named after him or her? How about Penine Ridge. A $200,000 race, the inaugural Penine Ridge will be run May 26 at Belmont. Penine Ridge was 9-for-48 lifetime, ended his career in a $40,000 claimer at the Meadowlands and never won a Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes race ... Kudos to owner Donald Little Jr. for donating 1 percent of Wicked Strong's earnings to charities set up to aid victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The horse has already made over $7,000 for the charity and would contribute another $12,000 or so with a win in the Kentucky Derby.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com

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