Many New Yorkers looking to make a legal mobile sports bet on football this fall will again have to cross the Hudson River into New Jersey to lay down their wager, after a bill to provide it stalled at the end of the year’s legislative session in Albany on Wednesday.
The development — or rather, non-development, as the bill never even drew a vote in the state Assembly — frustrated proponents of mobile sports betting, which they say already is thriving in the state anyway via offshore sportsbooks.
The holdup is that New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo has insisted that voters statewide must first approve a Constitutional amendment to allow for sports betting to be offered online, and not just at the state’s upstate casinos, which will begin this summer.
Stuck on the shoulder
Perhaps the most colorful metaphor was provided by State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, a Queens Democrat. He tweeted:
NY will be stuck like a disabled car on the shoulder, while we allow an illegal sports betting business in our state thrive and idly watch other neighboring states pass us up with enormous revenue gains from mobile sports betting.
— SenatorJoeAddabbo (@SenJoeAddabbo) June 19, 2019
Buffalo News reporter Tom Precious, who is writing a book on New York state gambling expansion, got a further reaction from Addabbo:
With online sports betting legalization dead in NY Assembly, @SenJoeAddabbo, bill sponsor in Senate, laments lost revenues & econ develop & bets lost to illegal market and places like New Jersey. "I am disappointed. It was within our grasp,'' he said.
— Tom Precious (@TomPreciousALB) June 19, 2019
Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, the key figure in trying to move his chamber forward on mobile sports betting, told Precious late last night that “I’m trying” to get a deal with Cuomo. But Precious tweeted that a Cuomo source told him “No way, no deal. Same constitutional concerns as raised months ago.”
The best-case scenario for Empire State mobile advocates would be a change of heart by Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in the coming months, thus leading to a likely passage of legislation into law next spring.
Failing that, two consecutive legislatures — meaning, in consecutive years — would have to agree to send the issue to the voters. Precious tweeted that Addabbo is talking up the idea of such a referendum in 2020, but it’s not clear that can happen before 2021.
Much like New Jersey’s 2011 referendum on sports betting that, once approved, set the stage for the long court battle that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year, a New York sports betting referendum also would be crafted not by the governor but by the state Senate and Assembly.
Addabbo hinted that “I get to draw up anything I like” — but if Heastie remains in lockstep with Cuomo, then the governor indirectly would have a say in the matter.
While some drew sustenance from the 57-5 vote in the state Senate on Monday to permit mobile sports betting (and betting kiosks at many state arenas and stadiums), the Assembly always has been the sticking point.
Pretlow insisted this week that he had the votes to pass the bill in his chamber. But once Heastie stepped forward, the bill was doomed.
Addabbo’s tweets reflect why he is so vexed.
“I have not witnessed a clear reason why NY can’t implement mobile sports betting this year,” he wrote. “Just for the remainder of this fiscal year, we would be losing out on approximately $75 million in revenue, educational funding and both job creation and retention.
”NJ places its servers in Atlantic City for statewide mobile gaming to comply with its constitution, which we would do in NY with our licensed casinos to comply with our state constitution.”
It’s unclear why Cuomo doesn’t accept that argument. As sports law attorney Daniel Wallach has noted, when New York added a mobile option for horse racing bettors a decade ago, there was no referendum on that change.
More than 80% of the monthly sports betting handle in New Jersey is via mobile, in spite of in-person betting being available at the Meadowlands Racetrack, Monmouth Park, and eight Atlantic City casinos. (A sliver of that mobile handle is actually from patrons of the tracks and casinos who need to make an instant bet.)
In New York, meanwhile, the nearest casino to the massive New York City population is about 100 miles from Manhattan. Unless sports betting is eventually added at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Yonkers Raceway, the mobile handle in New York would figure to go well over 90%.
A “Mike F” on Twitter provided this pointed tweet on Wednesday:
Thanks for leading the charge @SenJoeAddabbo. Time to refill my PATH card so I can get to Hoboken after work to place my bets, legally. 🤦🏻♂️
— Mike F (@MikeF_21) June 19, 2019
Mike F would be one of a significant number of New Yorkers who have contributed an estimated 10-15% of the $3 billion betting handle in the one year since New Jersey debuted the gambling last June.
The future of expanded gambling in New York remains hazy, as decisions have to be made about whether to add the state’s racetracks to the sports betting mix a la New Jersey.
Also, the casino law passed in 2013 allowed for up to three casinos licenses to be issued in the New York City area after the end of 2022 (which no longer seems so far away).
Even if Aqueduct and Yonkers get two of the licenses, would a third casino ever come to Manhattan? Would there even be a third license issued?
Given his power, the answers seemingly will continue to come from Cuomo.