New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. has been a major advocate for legalized online sports betting in his home state.
He hopes sports gambling will be here for the next Super Bowl. He just doesn’t plan to partake in it himself upon launch.
“I can’t picture myself doing that,” Addabbo, who chairs the NY State Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, told PlayNY last week in a wide-ranging interview.
Addabbo, an eternal optimist on this particular matter, has remained steadfast in his belief that online sports betting can be up and running in New York by Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022, if not sooner. The NY State Gaming Commission must select the winning bidders for licenses before Dec. 6. The industry favorites are Super Bids by FanDuel and Kambi.
“I think it’s a great benchmark to have,” Addabbo, 57, said. “I can be unrealistically optimistic, but I think it’s realistic optimism that we can do something by the Super Bowl. I’m hoping we finalize our operators and providers by the end of the year or early January. I think it’s doable.”
The process has been arduous. But the payoff projects to be significant, with New York facing a massive budget deficit following the coronavirus pandemic. For Addabbo, getting online sports betting up and running would mark a major personal political achievement.
“It’s never been about me,” Addabbo said, deferring credit to his constituents, colleagues and staffers. “I really wanted to do this for the educational funding, jobs, and the fact I don’t like our money going to other states. I’ll look back on it as a great accomplishment, but I’m blessed to have so many important people around me trying to push this process forward, and I’m just happy we got to do this together.”
Mets, Father’s Political Career Shaped Addabbo
Long before following in his father’s political footsteps, Joseph Addabbo Jr. was just a kid from Queens selling candy bars outside the entrance to Aqueduct Racetrack for his elementary school. “I quickly found out that bettors like to bet horses, and they like chocolate,” Addabbo said. “The closest I got to betting was flipping baseball cards in the schoolyard. And I wasn’t that good at it.”
Addabbo’s father, Joe Addabbo Sr., served 13 terms in the United States House of Representatives, splitting his time between Washington (Monday-Wednesday) and his home in Ozone Park, Queens (Thursday-Sunday). “Our time together wasn’t quantity of time, it was quality of time,” Addabbo said.
Joe Jr.’s older brother, Dom Addabbo, was really big into music. But Joe Jr. quickly gravitated toward sports. He played baseball, football and hockey growing up, and described himself as a “frustrated Mets’ fan,” just like, well, every other die-hard supporter of the Amazins’.
“Tom Seaver was my idol,” Addabbo said. “When I was on the mound in Little League, I had his motion down pat. And then it morphed into a Dwight Gooden motion.”
Father and son spent many summer days at Shea Stadium in the 1970s and ‘80s. “It was tough because he was a Yankee fan,” Addabbo said. “But he saw fit to root for the Mets because his son wanted him to be a Met fan.”
1986: A Year Of Mixed Emotions
The Mets captured the hearts and imaginations of fans across the city when they won the World Series in 1986. But the Addabbo family lost Joe Sr. on April 10 after a six-year battle with bladder cancer. Joe Sr. was 61. He suffered a seizure during a March 6 luncheon on Capitol Hill, went into coma five days later, and died a month after that.
Joe Jr. was just graduating from St. John’s University at the time, and contemplating where to attend law school. “Probably one of the toughest moments of my life was being in a packed auditorium with a thousand students or so, and they did a moment of silence for my dad. It took every ounce of energy I had not to break down,” Joe Jr. said.
“He used to call every night from Washington. The last conversation I had with him was about law school. He said we’d talk about the options when he got home. But that was it. I never got the chance.”
The Mets provided a welcome distraction. Joe Jr. remembered the “knots in his stomach” watching Game 6 of the World Series on TV with his friends. On Oct. 28, the same day of the groundbreaking of the Joe Addabbo Sr. Federal Building in Jamaica, Queens, the Mets held their unforgettable ticker-tape parade downtown. Joe Jr. ended up accompanying Queens borough president Claire Shulman after the event to the Canyon of Heroes. “Great memories, they really are,” Joe Jr said.
Joe Jr. went on to attend Touro Law School, and practice law for a decade. He ran for city council and lost in 1997 before winning four years later. The democrat represented the council’s 32nd district from 2002-08 before winning his state senate seat in the 15th district in 2009, where he has served ever since. Having Aqueduct and Resorts World NYC in his district helped prepare Joe Jr. for what was to come.
“My dad got so much satisfaction from helping people,” Joe Jr. said. “The things he said to me at the kitchen table have resonated and stuck with me, even now. It forms the foundation of how I help my constituents now.”
Uphill Battle: Online Sports Betting In NY
Since becoming chairman of the NY State Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering in 2019, after serving as a ranking member under John Bonacic, Addabbo Jr. can’t even get a coffee in Queens without locals asking him when legalized online sports betting is going to be live in the state.
If Addabbo had it his way, it already would’ve been in place years ago. Instead, New York is lagging behind and seeing its residents bet in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and with illegal bookies and off-shore accounts.
“(Former) Gov. Cuomo was very aloof when it came to gaming situations in the state of New York,” Addabbo said. “We’ve lost billions since the Supreme Court said we could do mobile sports betting and sports betting in general. And why? Because our governor didn’t really think it was a priority. He didn’t embrace it like (New Jersey) Gov. Murphy did. I thought we should’ve. New York is one of the sports capitals of the world. We should’ve been out in front. And we’re not. It’s been so frustrating.”
Still, Addabbo always remained optimistic that legalized online sports betting would find its way into New York at some point.
“We could’ve just dropped the ball and said, ‘Nah, screw it. Forget it. It’s never going to happen under this administration. We’ll wait,’” Addabbo said. “But I couldn’t do that. I remember saying, ‘I could sit on the sidelines and do nothing and we’ll get nothing. Or I can do something about it.’ So I worked with my counterpart (assemblyman) Gary Pretlow, and worked with my team on the Senate side, and it was just being persistent. Hitting roadblock after roadblock but just trying to find that crack in the wall and wedge yourself into it. That’s what we tried to do.”
Making The Best of Imperfect Sports Betting Plan
New York’s current online sports betting plan isn’t exactly what lawmakers had in mind.
They wanted an open competition with a lower tax rate. What they received from the Cuomo administration was a closed process with a projected high tax rate (50% or greater). During a mid-August racing and gaming conference at Saratoga Race Course, Pretlow referred to it as the difference between “heaven and hell.”
But Addabbo says there’s no turning back now.
“We’re too far along,” he said. “If we were to go back in January and try to recreate the wheel, we’d miss out on another Super Bowl and another March Madness to see where we’re at. And that’s the key. Get things going, and then let’s see what we might need to improve. Because this is New York. Our customers deserve a premier product. And you know they’ll drop it in a millisecond and go back to what they’ve been doing the previous three years if it’s not good enough. So we better come out swinging.”
Projections have stated New York could generate anywhere from $500 million (Cuomo administration) to over $1 billion annually (industry insiders) from online sports betting. But Addabbo isn’t making any predictions of his own.
“The bottom line is anything we raise is more than we have right now, because right now we have a big fat zero,” Addabbo said. “I do think there’s great potential here, and I do think we could probably touch upon, if not bypass, $1 billion eventually.
“But mobile sports betting isn’t a light switch. You don’t just turn it on and look up and there’s hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s going to take awhile. We’ve got some catching up to do.”
Addabbo’s Future Agenda: iGaming, Downstate Casinos
The push to promote sports betting across the country can be described as aggressive. If it wasn’t in your face before, it is now. Practically every second.
Yet not everyone is going to win. Former coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy recently said, “I don’t think we should encourage people who are watching the NFL to gamble.”
“We have to be prepared,” Addabbo said. “Yes, there will be addiction issues. We’ve added $6 million a year (to combat new and existing gambling addiction). There’s going to be winners and losers, hopefully more winners than losers, but we need to evaluate this. The first incarnation or variation of mobile sports betting in New York won’t be the last. We’ll always look to improve it, whether that be through expansion or making it better. We have to be prepared for the good and bad, but you don’t let that stop you from moving forward.”
In many ways, the gaming industry in New York is still very much in the early stages. Next up on Addabbo’s agenda will be online poker and casinos and downstate casinos. There’s still a lot of work to be done.
“We have the opportunity as legislators to stop the flow of money into other states, and do something about it for the people of our state,” Addabbo said. “And I’m just happy to have the opportunity to be a part of it.”