If the legalization of online casinos in New York has any shot of crossing the finish line in 2024, there is one major hurdle it needs to clear.
The New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council (HTC) fears cannibalization of land-based properties if lawmakers legalize online casinos in NY. And while Sen. Joe Addabbo has carved out $25 million in the bill to fund the labor union, the HTC claims it is not enough to garner its support.
“At the end of the day, our organization has one job, and it’s to increase the standard of living in New York state through the creation and preservation of exceptionally good jobs in the gaming industry,” Bhav Tibrewal, political director for the HTC, told PlayUSA.
“When you consider it from that perspective, you understand it’s our job to be skeptical of a proposal like this where, no matter how you cut it, it is not a job creator.”
New York labor union cannot support online casino bill
Certainly, Addabbo knows of this major obstacle. It’s why he included that $25 million fund in S8185, which also requires operators to set up servers and live dealer studios in the state and use union workers in development.
As Addabbo told PlayNY in late 2023, “those live dealers that have to be in New York, all the live studio workers that have to be in New York, those are union members. So we not only protect the current brick-and-mortar workers, we actually increase the union members there.”
For Addabbo, legalizing NY online casinos won’t cut into the existing retail casinos. Rather, the industry would bolster the workforce.
But it’s not enough to persuade the labor union, which remains concerned about jobs. Not only at casinos but also at attached businesses. Jobs like food and beverage employees as well as hotel workers, to name a few.
“For every dealer job, there are several other jobs created when you have a brick-and-mortar casino,” Tibrewal told PlayUSA. “There’s an entire ecosystem of labor, services and amenities that comes with a casino, and iGaming really completely decimates that ecosystem and changes the nature of what it means to gamble in New York state.”
Online casino bill viewed as ‘a job killer’
On top of that, Tibrewal singled out the $25 million fund.
“The fund is putting bells and whistles on a job killer,” Tibrewal told PlayUSA. “We firmly believe that iGaming harms the best part about casino gaming in New York States, which is jobs. No matter how much state revenue iGaming creates, if it comes at the cost of hurting the prospects for jobs at casinos, in our minds it’s a no-brainer that it’s the wrong thing to do.”
Tibrewal pointed to a study from The Innovation Group performed in Maryland, which is also considering online casino legalization. In the study, projections indicated that online casinos would lead to casino jobs declining by up to 8%. That report, Tibrewal said, stands as “the main thing … that gives us concern,” conceding that Atlantic City still thrived after New Jersey launched online casinos.
But the HTC wants the downstate casino licensing process to continue unimpeded. Despite Addabbo assuring that downstate licensing “is a separate pathway,” the HTC believes adding another path – NY online casinos – “would be misguided.”
“While we oppose iGaming,” Tibrewal told PlayUSA, “we certainly are all the more opposed to it while we’re in the middle of this process. We think the focus should be on downstate casinos.”
Can HTC be swayed on online casino bill?
Addabbo has advocated for getting any and every party involved in the discussion to legalize online casinos in New York. Tibrewal acknowledged that the senator has made pitches to the union.
But Tibrewal noted that no proponent of online casino expansion has “presented … any meaningful evidence this would not have a negative impact on jobs.” And until that happens, “we will be firm in our stance against iGaming.”
It appears as if Gov. Kathy Hochul stands on the side of the union – which represents over 5,000 gaming workers and thousands more once downstate properties open – in regard to completing the downstate licensing process, which could extend into 2025, if not longer. Hochul did not include NY online casino gaming in her Executive Budget earlier this month.
Tibrewal told PlayUSA that the HTC remains “all in” on the downstate expansion rather than “something that lets people gamble on their phones.
“It will again be true that labor concerns will be the biggest reason that iGaming doesn’t happen in New York this year.”