Among a number of proposals to open up new revenue streams for the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday put his support behind a plan to legalize mobile sports betting in New York.
In a news release, Cuomo announced a proposal that would have the New York State Gaming Commission “issue a request for proposals to select and license a sports operator or platform to offer mobile sports wagering in New York. This operator or platform must have a partnership with one of the existing licensed commercial casinos. The Commission will also require any entity operating mobile wagering apps include safeguards against abuses and addiction.”
The first legal in-person sports wagers in New York were placed in 2019. Currently, sports wagering is only allowed at the state’s commercial and tribal casinos, including Rivers Casino in Schenectady.
Previously an opponent of mobile sports gambling, Cuomo cited the potential revenue stream that it could open for the state as the motivating factor for his new proposal.
“New York has the potential to be the largest sports wagering market in the United States, and by legalizing online sports betting we aim to keep millions of dollars in tax revenue here at home, which will only strengthen our ability to rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis,” Cuomo said in the release.
“At a time when New York faces a historic budget deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added, “the current online sports wagering structure incentivizes a large segment of New York residents to travel out of state to make online sports wagers or continue to patronize black markets.”
Local state legislators were pleased to see Cuomo change tack.
“At a time where we’re looking for solutions to fill the budget gap, I’m not saying this is going to be the silver bullet, but this could be a significant part of the solution,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who has sponsored legislation to legalize both in-person and mobile sports gambling. “I’m glad to see the governor has finally come around, changing course from last year.”
“I’m delighted that the governor has recognized something that I’ve known for a while, which is that mobile sports betting is something that constituents — certainly in my district — are eager for,” said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake. “It represents an opportunity in this moment for New York State to raise revenue without having to raise taxes. I’m pleased that the governor is getting on board.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Murphy v. NCAA opened up avenues for state-sponsored sports betting. While New Jersey passed legislation allowing for in-person and mobile sports gambling as a package deal, New York’s legislation separated the two, with Cuomo long reticent to allow mobile wagering.
More than $5 billion in online wagers were placed in New Jersey in 2018, up from $4.5 billion in 2019 — with nearly 20 percent of those 2019 wagers coming from New York.
“There’s clearly interest in this in our state,” Woerner said. “I think we should see this as an opportunity to meet the interests of our constituents and, at the same time, raise money that does not involve income taxes.”
Allowing mobile sports betting in New York, Santabarbara said, would provide a major source of revenue as the state combats a budget gap brought on by the economic downturn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The need to allow mobile sports betting, Santabarbara said, is compounded by casinos being limited to 25 percent capacity under pandemic restrictions.
“To move this online would allow them to generate significantly more revenue,” he said. “[New Jersey], I think, has exceeded $4 billion in revenue, where here we’re doing $10, $20, $30 million. That’s a big difference.”
During his Wednesday press conference, Cuomo indicated that his proposal would result in mobile sports betting in the state operating in a similar fashion to the state lottery.
“Many states have done sports betting but they basically allow casinos to run their own gambling operations,” Cuomo said. That makes a lot of money for casinos but it makes minimal money for the state.
“And I’m not here to make casinos a lot of money. I’m here to raise funds for the state. So we have a different model for sports betting.”
However, Santabarbara said Wednesday evening that the latest information received by his office indicated that the casinos would have an important role in implementing the new system.
In fact, Santabarbara said, the casinos’ involvement was built into the original 2013 legislation that provided the framework for sports betting in the state in anticipation of the eventual Supreme Court ruling.
“However it is structured, you must have a partnership with one of the licensed casinos — like Rivers, or any of the other ones,” he said. “That’s my understanding, and I would insist on that.”
Hal Wafer, sportsbook manager at Rivers Casino, said the casino already has a partner in its sister company, Rush Street Interactive, that operates mobile sports betting in six states.
“If and when the state of New York approves mobile,” Wafer said, “we’re ready to hit the ground running.”