Gov. Cuomo Gives NY Mobile Sports Betting Backers A Crumb — But Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

With four little words — "How about sports betting?" — the governor got the industry talking again about mobile betting's hopes in NY.
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Rarely have four words ever produced such excitement in one sector as those uttered by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday did in the gaming industry.

In a 50-minute COVID-19 briefing, Cuomo focused quite a bit on the state’s current $15 billion budget gap.

“Tax increases?” Cuomo asked rhetorically. “At this rate, we’re going to need them. But it’s only one mechanism to close the hole. How much is in tax increases and how much in [spending]  cuts?”

Then, around the midpoint of the soliloquy, Cuomo mused, “Are there other ways to get revenue?”

Cuomo, known as a “visual thinker,” always has a word summary provided on screen (a process that some find very helpful and others find condescending). In this case, the visual was: OTHER REVENUE? MARIJUANA?

But in spoken word, Cuomo followed, “Are there other ways to get revenue? How about marijuana? How about sports betting? Marijuana, we were supposed to have done for the past two years anyway, and it would raise revenue.”

Topic disappeared in a puff of smoke

And with that, Cuomo pivoted to the pros and cons of drawing up a budget in the next two weeks versus waiting until February or March. Cuomo said he preferred the latter, based on his hopes that the incoming Joseph Biden administration would be more amenable to finding a way to provide financial aid to strapped state budgets.

Cuomo added that a quickly crafted budget would require massive layoffs of teachers, hospital workers, and state government employees before the state’s true financial picture is known.

But for New York mobile sports betting backers (don’t count New Jerseyans among them, as they reap millions in tax revenues annually from border-crossing New York-based gamblers), “How about sports betting?” was enough to produce loads of speculation.

Does it mean that Cuomo has abandoned his stance that adding mobile sports betting to the brick-and-mortar version offered by New York casinos requires a constitutional amendment (a multi-year process)? Do COVID-related budget issues force Cuomo’s hand?

Would New York adding mobile sports betting be the catalyst for many other legislatures and governors to follow suit?

Check the context again. It holds out far more hope for marijuana legalization supporters than it does for gambling-expansion followers.

Other Cuomo phrases about mobile sports betting

In March 2019, Cuomo declared that “I’m not a fan” of mobile sports betting, while citing the modest $13 million in taxes collected by New Jersey as a “rounding error. … So I don’t even think the economic benefit is there.”

The Garden State’s take rose to $31.8 million in 2019, the first full year of such betting (compared to just $4.7 million from brick-and-mortar wagers at casinos and racetracks), and New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow has claimed that New York State could collect $100 million annually in mobile sports betting taxes.

So from a $15 billion budget hole, that figure comes out to about one half of one percent — still the very definition of a rounding error. And Cuomo actually was referencing the state budget, which is more than 10 times as large as the current shortfall is. Less than one tenth of one half of one percent is not going to change Cuomo’s mind on its own, even in a budget crisis.

That will be a disappointment to many Manhattanites who are tired of taking a walk, bicycle, or car over the George Washington Bridge or taking a quick PATH train ride to Jersey City or Hoboken.

But there’s no point in getting anyone’s hopes up over what appear to be four throwaway words. Better to focus on another traditional vice that Cuomo predicted last month would be made legal in New York State in 2021 — yes, smoking pot.

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