The distinction between New Jersey as an online sports betting role model and New York as a foot-dragger losing out to its neighbor was spelled out clearly by two separate panels at the SBC Betting on Sports America digital conference Tuesday.
In one session of the online conference that brings together various leaders connected to the sports betting industry, New Jersey’s longtime chief regulator outlined the various decisions that have helped the Garden State surpass Nevada to become the No. 1 state for wagering handle in the nation.
In a subsequent discussion, pro-gaming legislators from New York described their continued difficulties in enacting a mobile component to the state’s legal sports betting. They remain hopeful of something happening toward that end by spring, but offered no odds on the prospect.
In the meantime, the difference in the two states’ approaches will continue sending thousands of New Yorkers across the state line to wager by smartphone, funneling millions of dollars in gambling revenue into New Jersey.
New Jersey leading the pack
David Rebuck, director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, was a featured speaker in a panel discussion titled “Leading the Pack — the NJ Revolution.” He has overseen the regulation and implementation of both New Jersey online casinos starting in 2013 and retail and online sports betting soon after New Jersey succeeded in striking down the PASPA federal ban on such activity outside Nevada in May 2018.
Sports betting operators often point to New Jersey’s regulation of the industry as an example others should learn from as state after state develops their own versions of legal sports wagering.
Rebuck credited support from New Jersey’s governors, legislators, law enforcement, and operators as all helping create a successful modern industry to supplement Atlantic City’s brick-and-mortar casinos that started in the 1970s.
He emphasized that much of the success has come from breeding healthy competition among many online operators rather than fearing their potential impact on one another or the land-based casinos.
“We made the decision to allow our casinos and racetracks to build upon their current business offerings and diversify what they had,” Rebuck said. “This was a great opportunity to expand and compete in ways that just didn’t exist, and there has been no cannibalization. It has been very successful.”
Remote registration and many skins were key
Among the key decisions that have benefited consumers as well as the industry, Rebuck noted, was allowing customers to register remotely for New Jersey online gambling, unlike the Nevada requirement that they show up initially at a casino.
“The success of it has borne out tremendously,” Rebuck said. “Anyone who sees the numbers will see this industry thrives on online play. Citizens want it, they like it, they have confidence in it, and you can’t as a businessman force a customer to do something they don’t want to do.”
In addition, he said the decision to allow multiple skins so that there are far more sportsbooks and online casinos to choose from than there are brick-and-mortar casinos has proven a winner.
Some other states following New Jersey into the field haven’t gone the same path on skins or remote registration. Rebuck suggested such limits on the accessibility and options for legal wagers harm the intent to breed a competitive industry that will lure customers away from longtime black market opportunities.
“If the quality of the product is not there, and the public is not satisfied with the offering, I guarantee you they’re going to use the offshore sites,” he said, noting those businesses are often well run even if he doesn’t like them. “You’re not just competing in the four corners of your state, and not even against neighboring states — your biggest competition is illegal operators, and if you ignore that as an operator or policymaker, you just don’t know what you’re doing.”
New York’s budget hole presents chance for change
Rebuck was not asked his opinion of how New York State has gone about things, but the difference couldn’t be more stark. It has no mobile betting, and retail wagering only at casinos far removed from the bulk of its population.
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. and Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow have been working to change that, but the effort has been made difficult by opposition from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He has contended a constitutional amendment is required to add mobile betting, which is a position not shared by the legislators.
Addabbo and Pretlow said at their Tuesday session, “Mobilizing Change in New York,” that while there is nothing to suggest Cuomo’s stance has changed, the state’s fiscal crisis tied to COVID-19 offers another chance for mobile wagering to be part of budget-related measures that have to be considered both this month and by April 1.
“Overriding a veto is not something we really want to do,” Addabbo said of the prospect of trying to win mobile betting without Cuomo’s consent. “We want to work with the governor’s administration so we can all be on the same page.”
Pretlow said he expects lawmakers themselves to show more support for the expansion than ever. “I don’t think it’s a hard sell to show the tens of millions of dollars of additional revenue that can come into the budget — you can’t thumb your nose at it,” the assemblyman said.
The elected officials were joined by Jeffrey Gural, chairman of American Racing and Entertainment, who owns both the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey and Tioga Downs in New York. Both of the tracks have retail FanDuel Sportsbooks, but Gural said his New Jersey sports betting revenue dwarfs the other because of the mobile component, as well as the accessibility to New York City. He said about one-third of the New Jersey mobile betting tied to FanDuel and the Meadowlands comes from New Yorkers.
“At Tioga we don’t really get a lot of people coming to bet on sports — I think they’re continuing to bet illegally,” if not crossing into Pennsylvania to bet by phone, Gural said in calling New York overdue to follow the lead of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“It’s hard to believe we’re even having this discussion” about when New York will ever adapt, he said. “I think any polling shows wide support for sports betting. … I think this is part of our culture now and it’s just a matter of time before all the states, including New York, legalize sports betting.”