The report summarizes conflicting views on the principle of off-track betting. The committee, after consulting "distinguished leaders in labor, law enforcement and courts, church, racing and press," could find only two categories of opposition to the plan: the Protestant Council of the City of New York objected on the classical grounds that it was immoral and socially harmful to do anything to facilitate or encourage gambling, and the New York racing authorities adhered to the more tortuous opinion that off-track betting would greatly increase gambling, thereby leading to a violent reaction by reform groups which might sweep away the whole structure of racing in New York.
The committee cited in favor of the plan the reactions of the chief city magistrate, the police commissioner, labor representatives and public opinion (alleging that the most recent poll showed that 86% of New Yorkers approved legalization of off-track betting).
All that is interesting enough. But the plan lamentably fails to cope with any of the practical complexities involved. It seems fairly clear that no one familiar with the mechanics and mathematics of betting had much of a say.
The citizens' committee idea seems to be to authorize about 100 horse parlors in New York City, all of which would have to be "reasonably distant" from "bars, race tracks, places of worship, schools, funeral parlors, welfare centers and unemployment insurance offices"—quite a trick, that is, if by "reasonably distant" is meant anything more than about two and a half lengths.
Bets made at these stations on the New York tracks would be computed at a central office, then relayed to the track itself for inclusion in the mutuel pool. But what if you want to bet on a race at Hialeah or Santa Anita? The report has the barest suggestions that the city would like to book those bets, too (if it didn't, it would only be depriving bookmakers of a small percentage of their illegal trade).
How could this possibly be worked? It would be impractical to relay the money bet in New York to the mutuel pools in Florida and California. Apart from anything else, this would require special legislation in those states, too. No, the city is thinking of keeping the money bet on out-of-state tracks, creating its own pools and payoffs. Thus, a horse that won at Arlington or Hollywood Park might go off at 4-1 at the track and at 7-1 in New York. Or vice versa.
This is only one example of the practical problems involved in the scheme which the mayor's committee has either frankly ignored or cheerily passed over. Nor is the confusion much less on the moral plane. What are we to think of a state where you can legally bet in one town ( New York) but not in another? If you live in New Jersey you could not bet legally at home, but if you went through a tunnel to work you could do so during your lunch break.
A final consideration which no one has mentioned is that it is inconceivable that a plan could be worked out and approved, personnel and premises found and machinery built and installed by July 1, which starts the city's fiscal year.
No, we would like to study a serious plan for off-track betting, and maybe one will come along, but we don't think Mr. Wagner has it at this time. In fact, although we are not political analysts here, we would, if pressed to make a modest legal off-track bet, prefer to wager on a higher sales tax.