University of Vermont AAHS

Yonkers Racing Corp. v. State of New York

New York Supreme Court, Weschester County
183 Misc.2d 456, 705 N.Y.S.2d 193
February 1, 2000

Summary of Opinion

The Yonkers Racing Corporation sued the State of New York to have declared unconstitutional a provision in the New York statute that imposes a tax on fees received for simulcasting harness races to Connecticut. There is no other tax on harness racing fees in the State of New York.

The trial court in this opinion finds that the tax on fees for simulcasting only to the State of Connecticut violates the commerce clause of the United States Constitution. It imposes a burden on interstate commerce that is not imposed on intrastate commerce. Therefore, the trial court declares that the tax is uncollectable.

Text of Opinion

Plaintiff sues for declaratory relief that section 318(4) of the Racing, Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Breeding Law (hereinafter "RPWB") is unconstitutional. Seven causes of action are asserted in the complaint and four theories are advanced against the legislation. Plaintiff moves for summary judgment and defendant purports to cross-move for judgment dismissing the complaint but has failed to submit a notice of cross-motion (CPLR 2215). The parties are in accord, however, that no triable issues of fact exist.

Prior to an amendment in 1988, section 318(4) of the RPWB did not explicitly authorize imposition of a tax on plaintiff's harness racing fees received for simulcasting its races to State of Connecticut off-track betting operators. [FN1] However, the racing board imposed such a tax, which was declared unconstitutional in 1986 by the Supreme Court, Westchester County, and that determination was affirmed by the Appellate Division, Second Department in 1987, on the ground that the racing board did not have authority to impose a tax. Yonkers Racing Corp. v. State of New York, 131 A.D.2d 565, 516 N.Y.S.2d 283 (2d Dept.1987).

FN1. Simulcast "means the telecast of live audio and visual signals of running, harness or quarter horse races conducted in the state for the purposes of pari-mutuel wagering." RPWB 1001(a). The transmission of such signals between entities in different states is a form of interstate commerce. 20 N.Y.Jur.2d, Constitutional Law, 147.

Thereafter, effective July 19, 1988, by Laws of 1988, chapter 261, section 318(4) of the RPWB was amended to add the last sentence which legislatively imposes a tax. The statute reads:

"4. Notwithstanding any other provisions of this chapter, there shall be no pari-mutuel tax imposed upon the compensation received by any harness racing association or corporation in consideration for (a) permission to have wagering conducted outside this state on races run by such association or corporation, and (b) the simulcasting outside this state of races run by such association or corporation, except for such permission or such simulcasting as may be granted to an off-track betting operator in the state of Connecticut by a harness racing association or corporation located in Nassau or Westchester county.

Any such association or corporation so simulcasting to an off-tract betting operator in the state of Connecticut shall pay to the New York commissioner of taxation and finance a reasonable tax for such permission and privilege for such simulcasting, which is hereby levied, at the following rates: one and one-tenth per centum of total daily regular and multiple bets; three and one-tenth per centum of total daily exotic bets; and three and one-half per centum of total daily super exotic bets."

Plaintiff has paid the tax imposed on its out-of-state simulcast transmissions to Connecticut, since the inception of the amendment, under protest. The within declaratory judgment action was commenced in June 1995. The complaint alleges that during the tax period through January 1995, plaintiff paid about $1,500,000 in tax under protest. It may be assumed that for the ensuing period from January 1995 to date at least an additional $1,000,000 in taxes was paid by reason of the statute.

Plaintiff has entered into a series of contracts with an entity in Connecticut to transmit audio-video data from Yonkers Raceway, which in turn is retransmitted in Connecticut by the recipient to off-track betting locations in Connecticut. For this service plaintiff is paid a fee. The parties have stipulated that the current contract between plaintiff and the Connecticut entity, which was extended to December 31, 2000, shall be deemed applicable to the underlying proceeding.

Plaintiff claims that the tax is unconstitutional because it: (1) discriminates against interstate commerce, (2) is barred by federal preemption, (3) violates the equal protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions and (4) improperly attempts to tax events outside New York State. The defendant argues that no violation of constitutional magnitude has occurred under any claim presented on this motion.

Taking the arguments advanced by plaintiff in inverse order, it is clear that the last argument is without merit. What is taxed is an event or transaction originating in New York, not something beyond its borders. Under plaintiff's theory, New York could not tax a company manufacturing products here but shipped beyond its borders while in-state companies shipping intrastate goods are taxed. Clearly, plaintiff's argument that the tax herein is imposed outside the state is wrong. Saratoga Harness Racing, Inc. v. City of Saratoga Springs, 55 A.D.2d 295, 390 N.Y.S.2d 240 (3d Dept.1976), aff'd, 44 N.Y.2d 980, 408 N.Y.S.2d 331, 380 N.E.2d 163 (1978).

The equal protection argument has appeal on its face as the statute applies only to Yonkers Raceway in fact, though as evidenced in the Bill Jacket to the amendment when the legislation was proposed, Roosevelt Raceway in Nassau County would have also been affected. However, when the legislation was enacted in 1988, Roosevelt Raceway ceased operations at or about that time. Nevertheless, the equal protection argument fails in light of the decision in Roosevelt Raceway v. County of Nassau, 18 N.Y.2d 30, 271 N.Y.S.2d 662, 218 N.E.2d 539 (1966) which upheld a statute that imposed a substantially larger tax on Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceway operations than upon other harness operations in the state. The Court of Appeals sustained the constitutionality of the legislation and rejected an equal protection violation argument (18 N.Y.2d 30, 37, 39-41, 271 N.Y.S.2d 662, 218 N.E.2d 539). Therefore, plaintiff's third argument fails in light of the aforementioned authority.

Plaintiff's second argument is that the tax is preempted by the supremacy clause of the Federal Constitution (art. VI, cl. 2) because Congress in the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 (15 USC 3001 et seq.) has legislated in the field. However, as argued by defendant, all that Congress has done is state that federal policy is to ensure that the "states will continue to cooperate with one another in the acceptance of legal interstate wagers" on horse races (15 USC 3001[a][3] ). There is no preemption here as Congress has not fully legislated on the subject nor is there any conflict between the tax imposed and the policy set forth in the federal statute. Atlantic City Racing Ass'n v. Attorney General, 189 N.J.Super. 549, 461 A.2d 178, 181 (1983), aff'd on opn. below, 198 N.J.Super. 247, 486 A.2d 1261 (1983), rvd. other gr., 98 N.J. 535, 489 A.2d 165 (1985); see Matter of Marino v. Town of Ramapo, 68 Misc.2d 44, 57-60, 326 N.Y.S.2d 162 (Supreme Ct.Rockland 1971). Indeed, at bar, the contract is with an agency of the State of Connecticut and there is no proof of any violation or undue burden with regard to the Interstate Horseracing Act.

Plaintiff's first argument that the tax imposes an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce requires analysis.

Pursuant to article 1, section 8, clause 3 of the Federal Constitution, Congress is authorized to regulate commerce among the states. It is a violation of this provision for a state to enact laws that unduly discriminate or burden interstate commerce. Smith, State Discriminations Against Interstate Commerce, 74 Cal.L.Rev. 1203 (1986).

To be valid, a state tax affecting interstate commerce must: (1) have a sufficient nexus to the activity being taxed in the state, (2) be fairly apportioned, (3) not discriminate against interstate commerce, and (4) be fairly related to the benefits provided. Complete Auto Transit, Inc. v. Brady, 430 U.S. 274, 287-88, 97 S.Ct. 1076, 51 L.Ed.2d 326 (1977); 3 Antieau & Rich, Modern Constitutional Law (2d ed.), 43.34- 43.40. "The key to such cases is understanding that states should not be allowed to develop tax schemes which either burden out-of-state transactions or give favored treatment ... to transactions which take place within the state." 3 Antieau & Rich, op. cit., 43.38, p. 89. A state is not permitted to impose a tax that discriminates against interstate commerce and the fact that the tax may fall on an in-state entity, as here, rather than upon out-of-state customers "makes no analytic difference." Camps Newfound/Owatonna v. Town of Harrison, 520 U.S. 564, 580, 117 S.Ct. 1590, 1600, 137 L.Ed.2d 852 (1997). A "State may not tax a transaction or incident more heavily when it crosses state lines than when it occurs entirely within the State." Armco, Inc. v. Hardesty, 467 U.S. 638, 642, 104 S.Ct. 2620, 81 L.Ed.2d 540 (1984). "Once a state tax is found to discriminate against out-of- state commerce, it is typically struck down without further inquiry." Chemical Waste Management, Inc. v. Hunt, 504 U.S. 334, 342, 112 S.Ct. 2009, 119 L.Ed.2d 121 (1992).

The narrow focus of our inquiry herein as presented by the parties relates to the discriminatory aspects, if any, of the subject tax.

"[A] facially discriminatory tax may still survive Commerce Clause scrutiny if it is a truly ' "compensatory tax" designed simply to make interstate commerce bear a burden already borne by intrastate commerce'." Fulton Corp. v. Faulkner, 516 U.S. 325, 331, 116 S.Ct. 848, 133 L.Ed.2d 796 (1996). The terms "compensatory tax" and "complementary tax" describe the same phenomenon: "a tax on interstate commerce 'complements' a tax on intrastate commerce to the extent that it 'compensates' for the burdens imposed on intrastate commerce by imposing a similar burden on interstate commerce." Fulton Corp. v. Faulkner, supra, 516 U.S. 325, 331, 116 S.Ct. 848 (footnote 2).

To sustain a discriminatory tax, the burden of proof is on the state to: (1) identify the intrastate burden it is attempting to compensate for, (2) show that the tax on interstate commerce is roughly approximate to the tax on intrastate commerce and (3) show that the events taxed are substantially equivalent. Fulton Corp. v. Faulkner, supra, 516 U.S. 325, 332-33, 116 S.Ct. 848; Oregon Waste Systems, Inc. v. Department of Environmental Quality of Ore., 511 U.S. 93, 103, 114 S.Ct. 1345, 128 L.Ed.2d 13 (1994). The federal courts are reluctant to recognize new compensatory categories and have generally found functional equivalence only in sales and use taxes. Fulton Corp. v. Faulkner, supra, 516 U.S. 325, 338, 342-43, 116 S.Ct. 848.

At bar, the defendant has failed to demonstrate any roughly equivalent tax on intrastate simulcasting of horse races to in-state off-track betting locations and plaintiff's claim that no such tax exists is not refuted by the state by identification of the source of such a tax. Therefore, the subject tax is discriminatory and not compensatory and violates the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution. It is declared invalid.

The motion for summary judgment is granted and section 318(4) of the RPWB is declared unconstitutional in violation of the commerce clause and defendant is enjoined from further collections thereunder. Plaintiff has indicated it will sue for return of the taxes paid in the appropriate forum, the Court of Claims. The alleged cross-motion is denied.

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