Albany Law School
Albany Law School (Wikipedia)

As New York state prepares to expand casino gambling, Albany Law School is betting on an increased demand for lawyers with expertise in the horse racing and casino industries.

Starting this fall, the school will offer specialized courses at its newly-created Saratoga Institute for Equine, Racing and Gaming Law, where students will learn about legal issues and regulations surrounding video gaming, slot machines, table games and casinos on Indian reservations.

They also will learn about regulations for off-track betting; drug use in horse racing; operation of professional horse breeding farms; and labor law specific to track and stable workers, who tend to be immigrants.

The time may be right for such a program. Last year, New York voters approved a constitutional referendum to create four non-Indian resort casinos. And last week, the New York Gaming Facility Location Board announced that 22 companies had signified their intent to submit proposals to build them.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has championed the plan as a way to bring jobs and revenue to upstate regions struggling with unemployment. Prospective developers spent $1 million each to cover the cost of reviewing their license bids.

The legislation authorizes no more than four “destination” resorts, with at least one in the Catskills, one in the Capital Region and one in the Eastern Southern Tier, along the Pennsylvania border. No single region will have more than two casinos, and none will be allowed downstate for at least seven years.

Currently there are five Indian casinos and nine racetracks with video lottery terminals in New York.

“With the expansion of casino gambling in New York, there’s a growing need for attorneys to practice in that area of law in New York state and internationally,” said Raymond Brescia, an Albany Law professor and director of the Government Law Center, which will house the Saratoga Institute.

Brescia said the growing gaming industry in New York could give graduates opportunities “with business entities that are heavily regulated, in private firms that represent those entities, and in the government that regulates them.”

It doesn’t hurt that Albany Law is just 33 miles away from the Saratoga Race Course, the oldest thoroughbred racetrack in the U.S.

Albany Law professors and outsiders say that, in the long run, educating students on racing and gaming law will improve a set of highly regulated, multi-billion dollar industries with drastically different rules in every state.

Those rules and regulations are often created piecemeal by regulators who don’t understand the industries, according to Dr. Jerry Bilinski, a veterinarian for horses who owns a thoroughbred farm and is one of the Saratoga Institute’s cofounders. Controversy stemming from those misunderstandings means the industries are particularly over-regulated, he added.

“This would allow people to be hired by legislative staff and government, for example, who would know more about racing and animals,” said Bilinski, who is also the former head of the state’s racing and wagering board, which has been absorbed by the new New York State Gaming Commission.

The only other law school to offer a substantial program in these areas is the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which has four courses in gaming policy and resort and casino law. The University of Kentucky College of Law also offers a course in equine law.

Until now, Albany Law has offered courses in Indian law, which emphasizes gambling operations on Indian reservations, as well as courses in government regulation of gambling activities.

For the past 14 years, the school’s Government Law Center has also hosted a two-day summer program on racing and gambling industries. Introducing a concentration for law students was a “natural extension” of the program, Brescia said.

“It only makes sense for the law school closest to Saratoga to be connected to this area of law,” he said.

The 10-course academic program will require students to choose a sub-concentration in either equine/racing or gaming. Students must take an administrative law course as well as courses in business law, insurance law, employment law, environmental law and other areas.

The Saratoga Institute will help place students in legal internships within racing and gambling regulatory agencies throughout the United States as well as private law firms that represent the casino or horse racing industries.

In the past seven years, Albany Law School has placed 14 interns at the Gaming Commission and its predecessor entities, Brescia said, adding that he expects Albany Law students to “continue to have opportunities there.”

The New York State Gaming Commission currently employs eight attorneys.

For working professionals, the institute will offer year-round, in-person and web-based training in addition to an annual conference.

So far, the program has raised $30,000 to fund the initiative, with donations from Bilinski and Brown & Weinraub PLLC. Courses will be taught by existing Albany Law faculty and adjuncts.