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Imagine being able to come home at the end of a long day, open an app on your phone, and place a bet on the game you waited all day to watch. In New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo’s mind, that legal mobile sports betting dream should already be a reality. As Chairman of the Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, Addabbo has worked diligently for years to introduce mobile sports betting in New York. The first big move was to amend the State Constitution to allow gaming in 2013 that permitted commercial casinos to prepare for sports betting. Sports betting became possible when the Supreme Court ruled that the blanket state prohibition on sports betting was unconstitutional in 2018.
As it currently stands in New York, sports bets can only legally be placed in person at 4 commercial casinos, primarily located in Central New York, and in any Native American reservation casinos. Meanwhile, 11 states and counting, including neighboring states New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware already approve mobile sports betting and have had success doing so. In search of similar success, Senator Addabbo was able to pass a separate bill to include mobile sports betting, Senate Bill S17D, in the New York State Senate and included mobile sports betting in the Senate’s budget. Despite Addabbo’s best efforts though, he has been unable to gather the support to pass it as a stand alone bill through the New York State Assembly or be included in their budget.
State Constitutional Amendment Question Answered
A significant reason for the failure to pass mobile sports betting involves Governor Andrew Cuomo’s and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s stance that a Constitutional Amendment is necessary to allow mobile sports betting. Senator Addabbo was there in 2013 when the Constitution was amended and stated “the intent [behind the amendment] was never to limit the type of gaming, it was to limit where we can place the casinos because we didn’t want to over saturate the state with casinos.” Beyond that, publications like the New York Law Journal wrote that the language itself can be interpreted to allow for mobile sports betting. As Senator Addabbo succinctly said, “Once you put the server on the land of a licensed casino, and that server is the operating mechanism that accepts the wager . . . then we satisfy the Constitution.”
Gambling Addiction and Integrity Concerns
Despite the answers to the Constitutional amendment questions, there still is a lack of support to finally pass mobile sports betting in New York. Concerns include those from Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who said “I don’t think that’s how we should be closing our budget gap and I definitely think it undermines the game, any game, when people are betting on it then one isn’t sure if it’s a fair match.” There are also concerns about raising revenue through an activity that has as many as 10 million people who are addicted and can cause financial troubles for people and their families.
Senator Addabbo is very aware and understanding of the serious nature of addiction associated with gambling and truly believes passing mobile sports betting is the best way to identify and regulate it. Senator Addabbo discussed the bill and it’s protections that include; account freezes above a certain level of wagering, protection against minors gambling, and programs to identify and assist those who are displaying signs of addiction even prior to significant financial loss.
Senator Addabbo said the best way to really help those addicted is by regulating it. He added that regulating it helps “identify who the [betting] individuals are in your state and who needs help”. He believes it is a much better option than them going to neighboring states that allow mobile sports betting like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, or even worse using offshore betting accounts that sends your money to unknown places and cannot be tracked easily.
He also pointed out that there is already gaming in New York through casinos, scratch offs, the lottery, and even sports betting in person so New York does not have to “recreate the wheel” to introduce mobile sports betting. Similar to helping identify addiction, regulation and legal betting would make it easier to identify bets against the integrity of the game. Legal mobile betting allows regulators to track large bets and where they come from which can streamline the process to monitor potential point shaving and other gambling scandals. Beyond that, Senator Addabbo added that the current states rules and general health concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic should provide another incentive to keep people inside the state to bet. Addabbo noted that New Jersey’s online gambling is up 113% in August of this year compared to last August, certainly due in part to COVID-19, but that trend of increased mobile betting does not seem to be slowing down any time soon.
Keeping Money and Jobs In New York State
One of those states which New York residents frequently travel to, New Jersey, has seen an overwhelming majority of their money bet via mobile sports betting. When looking at New Jersey, which as Senator Addabbo noted, has half the population and half the amount of tourists as New York states, we see that almost $7.7 billion has been wagered since the Supreme Court’s decision in May 2018 with an estimated 80% of that ($6.16 billion) generated through sportsbook apps and websites. Beyond that, Senator Addabbo added that recent estimates stated that $837 million of that New Jersey total figure comes from New York residents who travel to New Jersey to place their bets. A major reason is the inconvenience to legally to place a bet in New York. For example, Addabbo said from Queens it would take about 2 and a half hours to go physically to the closest New York state casino that carries mobile sports betting, while it is only a 30 minute ride to New Jersey and bets can be placed via mobile betting.
Herein lies another major reason that Senator Addabbo continues to push so hard for the passage of mobile sports betting in the Senate. New York is losing out on jobs, education funding, and revenue just by not offering mobile sports betting. Instead of employing people in New York state, in a time when unemployment is almost 9 percentage points higher than it was last year at the same time, New York is not able to offer valuable jobs to help develop, maintain, and regulate mobile sportsbooks.
Revenue Opportunities for New York
Beyond just the job creation, the introduction of mobile sports betting will provide opportunities for increasing revenue at a time when the state budget deficit is estimated at approximately $14 billion. As part of the plan to deal with such a deficit, Governor Andrew Cuomo is threatening to cut money to different organizations including schools. The bill proposed, Senate Bill S17D, provides a direct opportunity to help avoid some of those cuts and aid the education system. The bill dedicates 85% of state tax revenue to the commercial gaming revenue fund, 80% of which “shall be appropriated or transferred only for elementary and secondary education or real property tax relief.” Senator Addabbo was cautious to give any estimates of tax revenue without knowing definitively how mobile betting would be approved, but shared that first year estimates were in the ballpark of $200 million in revenue mostly from licenses, taxes, and wagering.
Time is ticking this year, but the New York state legislature is awaiting a federal stimulus package before they finalize their own state revenue package. Senator Addabbo is hopeful that state revenue package will include mobile sports betting on it. Ideally, it would be approved as soon as possible before the end of the year, with the hopes of being operational before the Super Bowl scheduled in February and the NCAA basketball tournament scheduled in mid-March.
Senator Addabbo, along with many others, know there are a significant number of New York residents who want to mobile sports bet in their own state. While states nationwide continue to pass legislation allowing for mobile sports betting in their states, New York has been stuck watching others benefit while they ask questions that have researched answers. Senator Addabbo knows that mobile sports betting has incredible potential in New York to not only help the state budget deficit, help identify and treat gambling addiction, help education spending, and job creation, but to also provide a comprehensive sports experience that could soon catapult New York into a regional, nationwide, and even worldwide leader in the sports betting industry.