‘It Made Me Sick’ — NY Lawmaker On September Sports Betting Dollars Flowing Into NJ

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Two New York State elected officials took their semi-annual state gambling expansion roadshow to Manhattan’s West Side on Tuesday, again vowing that next year will be different.

“I’m hoping that 2020 is the year,” state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., a Republican, told an audience at the Sports Betting USA conference.

“I think that [2020] is the year,” echoed Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Democrat.

And while New York’s effort to bring mobile sports betting into the legal fold continues to get the attention of New Jersey officials who are enjoying the added revenue that the stalemate has brought, these lawmakers have even bigger dreams than that.

Pretlow said that officials for both Yonkers Raceway in Westchester County and Aqueduct in Queens have told him they would be willing to pay a massive $500 mm fee for the right to turn their racinos into full-fledged, Vegas-style casinos.

And while state law currently bars such a changeover before 2023 — when up to three more licenses could be issued in the New York City area — Addabbo says he now questions even waiting that long.

“We wanted to give the four upstate casinos a chance to get up and running first,” Addabbo said of the gaming sites. “But in retrospect, we have three licenses bringing in zero revenue and zero jobs.

“I’m hopeful that we will start to discuss — maybe we’ll even have a hearing — what we are doing with these three other licenses,” Addabbo added. “What good are they sitting on a shelf? Why not start thinking about utilizing them in 2020 or 2021?”

If Addabbo’s bill passes, sports betting could even come to other tracks such as Belmont or Saratoga Springs, the state Senator said.

Cold, hard reality check

Of course, none of this is going to happen unless Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a change of heart.

Cuomo has said that a state Constitutional amendment would be needed to permit sports betting to graduate from brick-and-mortar to the internet — even though no such amendment was needed when betting on horse races made the same jump a decade ago.

In 2018, neither Albany statehouse chamber produced a vote on sports betting. This spring, the state Senate voted 57-5 in spite of a wide-ranging betting expansion bill.

But even though Pretlow insists he had the votes in the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie elected not to call a vote — because, he claimed, Cuomo had said he would veto the bill.

“I don’t know what [Cuomo’s] opposition is about,” Pretlow told NJonlinegambling.com. “He came up with the idea that [the state Gaming Commission would do a study, and the results were supposed to be due in late November or early December.

“Then they changed [the deadline]and now the results aren’t due until April or May — after the budget gets done,” Pretlow added. “I suppose now he has an excuse: ‘Let’s wait and see what the study says.’ I know what the study is going to say: ‘Let’s do it.'”

The legislature in Albany reconvenes in January but finishes its 2020 calendar in early June.

“Hopefully this comes up the first month and we can put it in the budget,” Pretlow said. “If I can get a Constitutional scholar to come out with a strong opinion to say that ‘[mobile sports betting]is constitutional,’ that may sway him. But I don’t know any constitutional scholars who want to go against the Governor.”

The $500 mm promises by the two racino operators also is viewed with a “skeptical” eye by Cuomo.

New York: The extended metaphor state

Addabbo said that the commission’s approval of final regulations for sports betting and the launching of such betting at the four casinos this summer at least allow him to update his metaphor.

“I used to say that New York is the disabled car on the side of the road, not moving at all while we watch other cars pass us in the left lane, the right lane, the middle lane,” Addabbo said of neighboring states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania fast-tracking sports betting.

“I can’t say that anymore – now we’re on the shoulder, or the right lane, I guess. We might only have three wheels, but we’re in the traffic even as cars still pass by us.”

Looking ahead to 2020, Addabbo said, “Are we going to go down the same road with three wheels in the right lane, waiting for those three wheels? Or are we going to fix that car, get in the left lane, and step on the gas?”

Both Addabbo and Pretlow repeatedly referenced the Meadowlands Racetrack’s success in wooing New Yorkers to their site — as well as to some Empire State residents simply getting just across the Hudson River by various means to place their legal mobile bets in New Jersey before returning home.

Addabbo pointed out that New York sports betting revenue for September was $2.3 mm compared to $38 mm for New Jersey. Based on various industry estimates, Addabbo said roughly $9 mm of New Jersey’s bounty came from his residents.

“It made me sick, seeing all that revenue going out of our state,” Addabbo said.

(Jamaal Lesane, senior vice president for legal and business affairs with The Madison Square Garden Company, said at a later panel Tuesday that he has colleagues who go downstairs to New York Penn Station, grab a train to Jersey, and are back at their desk in under 20 minutes.)

Pretlow said that bringing sports betting and live-dealer table games to Yonkers and Aqueduct would allow for a recapture of much of that $9 million, even if implementation of mobile betting stalls.

But unless Cuomo can be persuaded to change his mind, it appears the considerable efforts of Addabbo and Pretlow will again prove fruitless in 2020.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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