Milestone For New York Mobile Sports Betting Is Missed Without Fanfare

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Monday’s deadline for the New York State legislature to approve language for a constitutional amendment on whether to permit mobile sports betting came and went without fanfare.

The missed chance means that if a referendum is indeed required — as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has insisted — then it would have to gain the backing of legislators in both the 2021 and 2022 sessions, followed by a November 2022 ballot question to voters across the state.

Even a 2023 launch of mobile sports betting would put New York five years behind neighboring New Jersey, which benefits from the Empire State’s inaction to the tune of millions of dollars of out-of-state revenue.

But state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens, said he is undaunted by the stalemate. Addabbo told NJ OnlineGambling that the amendment effort needed to gain traction quickly once the legislature reconvened on July 20.

Once that didn’t happen, the deadline became moot, Addabbo said. Instead, he has pivoted back to his belief that such an amendment is unnecessary.

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It is curious that both horse racing and sports betting are legal in New York, and that horse racing wagering was expanded to add an online supplement more than a decade ago without the need for a constitutional amendment.

But without the support of Cuomo or Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, mobile sports betting in the state remains in limbo.

Plan B is preferred, anyway

Addabbo and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Westchester, have been willing to entertain the referendum route — as a last resort.

“Now we can move on to talk about mobile sports betting this year,” Addabbo said. “The fact is that with a $13 billion deficit, we need all sorts of new sustainable revenue. We can’t just rely on the federal government here to bail us out.”

The challenge for Addabbo and Pretlow is that given sports betting’s low profit margins, legalization of mobile sports betting would produce millions — not billions — of new revenue.

A report by Eilers & Krejcik estimated that New Yorkers wagered $837 million in New Jersey last year, almost 20% of the Garden State’s total of $4.6 billion. Even on revenue of $299 million, New Jersey only collected $35 million in taxes.

That means that New York only lost out on less than $7 million in taxes in 2019 from “wayward souls” who crossed the Hudson River, often by car or by train but occasionally by bicycle or on foot. The real benefits of mobile sports betting legalization arguably are both convenience and consumer protection.

If Cuomo experiences an unlikely change of heart, Addabbo said he would hope to have New Yorkers betting legally online in time for the Super Bowl — scheduled for February — or for NCAA college basketball’s “March Madness,” assuming it isn’t postponed again.

Is there a bigger gambling haul out there for Addabbo to support as well?

There is.

Where the big new gambling money really is

In 2013, New York voters approved an amendment to allow for up to four upstate casinos.

Those results have been mixed, at best, and Cuomo’s refusal to mirror neighboring states and reopen those casinos on a limited basis have further hampered the ailing facilities.

“I don’t really understand the delay, given that the opening of those casinos was sort of a fingerprint of the governor’s administration,” Addabbo said.

Exacerbating the issue is that a number of upstate New York tribal casinos — some of them direct competitors to the commercial casinos — staged partial reopenings in June without incident.

A secondary part of that 2013 voter approval, which now looms ever larger, was to permit three additional casinos to open in the New York City area beginning in 2023.

MGM Resorts purchased Yonkers Raceway and its Empire City racino last year, and it has made no secret of its desire to expand its offerings to include live-dealer table games and sports betting. The same is true of Resorts World Aqueduct, and estimates have been reported that licenses for those high-traffic sites could be worth $500 million or more.

Earlier this year, a gaming expert valued such licenses at $1 billion in testimony before a state Senate committee.

Addabbo wants passage of a law that speeds up the process to get such revenue into state coffers sooner, given the grim status of the state’s finances.

“The time to do this is now,” Addabbo said.

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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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