Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: The 74th Running of The New York Presented by NYRA Bets Grade II at Belmont Park
So, today is Easter Sunday. I understand that for many people, this a holy day. For some, it is a day about bunnies and chocolate. For others, it’s just a regular Sunday.
For me, today is a day that is causing me a great deal of rage.
Please, allow me to explain.
This morning, I decided, as I do many Sundays, to take a look at my NYRA Bets account to see if there were any horse races I was interested in betting on. When I attempted to log in, I was greeted with this message:
Due to New York State law, wagering is not permitted today in observance of Easter for New York customers.
After ranting about this to anyone within earshot (and many more beyond it), I started to get even more upset.
This is not even an issue of not being able to gamble on horses — it’s a question of freedom.
Of our fundamental rights as Americans.
One of the founding principles of our nation is a separation between church and state. Religion should not permeate the state. It was a core belief of many of our founders, and though those words are not expressly in the Constitution, our Supreme Court finds that…
“The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”
— Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)
The racetracks in New York are owned and operated by the state. NYRA Bets is also owned and operated by New York State.
So, the state of New York has chosen to prohibit my right to gamble legally because of its observance of a religious holiday? And why are we picking and choosing the holidays that get this distinction?
Yesterday was Passover, yet I was able to gamble. Ramadan begins in a couple of weeks, and I’m going to hazard a guess that I will be able to gamble on horses in New York then, too. In fact, Easter and Christmas are the only religious holidays that New York tracks are closed for, and it was only in 2014 that they decided to open racing on Palm Sunday.
This isn’t similar to the so-called “blue laws,” which prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Those laws weren’t explicitly passed because of religion (though religion certainly had something to do with them) and ultimately, they don’t run afoul of other laws.
I don’t want to have to take this all the way to Albany, but New York may leave me no choice. I’m doing my damndest to #MakeHorseRacingSexyAgain, and ridiculous laws like these are hurdles I must clear to reach the finish line. Nevertheless, I will continue the fight.