There’s growing optimism among legislators that they will legalize New York online sports betting by Labor Day.
Assemblyman Gary Pretlow tells PlayNY that he has a commitment from assembly leadership for NY online sports betting to be part of the revenue bill. But like all politics in New York, the issue is complicated and fluid, and guarantees of action can quickly get sidetracked.
Pretlow indicated that the commitment came from state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The speaker opted not to pursue a constitutional amendment bill by last week’s deadline.
“I do have a commitment that, when we do the revenue enhancement bill, this will be part of it,” Pretlow said. “I wanted to do the constitutional amendment as a backup but they told me it wasn’t necessary.”
The legislature is waiting to find out how much New York gets in a federal coronavirus relief package before beginning negotiations on the revenue bill.
NY foregoes constitutional amendment on sports betting
After New York did not include online sports wagering in the budget in April, Pretlow said he would push for a constitutional amendment bill.
“Hopefully they don’t make me feel like a fool,” Pretlow stated. “I don’t trust any of them. They either really don’t believe it needs a constitutional amendment or they just don’t want to do it. The truth is in the pudding.”
Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr., online sports betting’s champion in the Senate, told PlayNY he thought it better not to do the amendment.
“The bottom line is that, if we did a constitutional amendment, it’s throwing up the white flag that we’re not doing it this year,” Addabbo said. “But I’ve warned people that, consequently, we need to do it without an amendment or it’s going to be another four years.”
By not passing a constitutional amendment bill this year, New York couldn’t put the issue in front of voters until 2023. That could delay mobile sports betting to 2024, putting the Empire State even further behind neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Constitutional issue explained
New York’s constitution prohibits any expansion of gambling without an amendment, which requires approval from two consecutive legislatures and a voter referendum. A 2013 amendment permits New York sports betting at four upstate casinos, but makes no mention of mobile.
The past two years, the Senate passed a bill to legalize mobile sports betting. But Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have cited constitutional issues in blocking its path.
The lawmakers used legal opinions to show that a constitutional amendment isn’t necessary. Sports betting is legal at New York casinos. The opinions argue that online wagers take place at the location of the servers on casino property.
“It’s a little ridiculous because all along Assembly leadership is telling me they had constitutional questions,” Pretlow said. “Then, when I tried to fix the constitutional issues, they said, ‘We don’t have constitutional issues. Let’s do a bill.’ I ask how and they said to put it in the revenue package.”
Details of NY online sports betting
Pretlow said he expects the language for expanded sports betting in the revenue bill to be similar to the S 17 passed by the Senate last year.
He wants to make one adjustment, changing the skins allowed per casino from one to two. He said all commercial NY casinos are in favor of multiple skins except Rivers Casino in Schenectady.
Key components of the bill include:
- An initial license fee of $12 million.
- Tax rate of 8.5% on retail sports betting and 12% on mobile.
- 0.20% of the handle on all wagers go to professional sports leagues as an integrity fee.
- Casinos required to use official league data for in-play wagers if made available on “commercially reasonable terms” as determined by the New York Gaming Commission.
- Racetracks, off-track betting parlors, sports stadiums and arenas may partner with commercial casinos to offer sports betting through servers on their properties.
- Indian tribes also would need to partner with commercial casinos to offer mobile wagering.
Pretlow added the revenue bill will not contain expedited downstate casinos, which the governor opposes.
Will NY sports betting study come in time?
Lawmakers hoped a New York gaming market analysis would help them with their push. The New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) chose Spectrum Gaming Group to conduct the study in November.
The request for a proposal specifically asked Spectrum for an analysis of the potential market and impacts for online sports wagering.
Given that the gaming landscape in New York was severely affected by COVID-19, the NYSGC extended the June 1 deadline for the final report to incorporate potential impacts of the pandemic.
Addabbo indicated that he’s heard the study will be out around Labor Day, which could be too late to make an impact this year.
“I don’t know if this is going to be a useful tool for us,” Addabbo said. “I’m not happy.”