Odds May Not Look Great For 2024 Legalization Of NY Online Casinos, But Addabbo Doesn’t Care

Written By Grant Lucas on January 25, 2024 - Last Updated on February 6, 2024
storm clouds over New York City for a story on the odds of NY online casinos getting legalized in 2024

Sen. Joe Addabbo isn’t “into percentages,” as he put it. Simply put: “I just try to do what I do.”

Which is why the perceived low odds of his bill passing in 2024 – legislation that would legalize online casinos in New York – does not faze him, at least outwardly.

Even when Gov. Kathy Hochul excluded NY online casino gaming from her Executive Budget, Addabbo didn’t see that as a door closing on 2024 passage. That fiscal plan, like his bill, is a starting point. For the next few months, lawmakers will deliberate over how to best execute the Executive Budget, fine-tuning along the way.

Which explains why Addabbo still has high hopes for 2024 legalization, defying the odds – less than 50% by some industry experts – set forth by outsiders.

“I’m always optimistic,” Addabbo told PlayNY. “I really appreciate the governor’s efforts in regards to gaming. Because of her very methodical and safe way of expanding gaming in New York, we are now perceived both nationally and globally as a gaming growth market. And I do appreciate the opportunity of at least having these conversations with the Hochul administration.

“So I’ll always remain optimistic. I would have liked the governor to embrace iGaming more so, but there’s time for that. … There’s time for the governor to consider iGaming, and I think rational thought would dictate that we do at least have these conversations and consider iGaming.”

Online casinos provide avenue to address ‘needs’

Not many have as much faith as Addabbo. Certainly not industry experts.

For example, Howard Glaser, an executive with Light & Wonder, estimated that the chances of New York legalizing online casinos stand at “less than 50%.”

Those odds stand higher than most other projections. Just not for Addabbo, who introduced his bill to legalize NY online casinos earlier this month.

“The idea here,” Addabbo said in response to those otherwise grim prospects, “is I do believe that at a certain point there is that pathway for the governor and the union and the legislators to really come together and advance the idea of iGaming and iLottery in New York.”

Perhaps if this was a “one-shot” or a “gimmick,” as legislators often phrase it, Addabbo might feel different. Those kinds of proposals prove unsustainable long-term. Or the State Legislature “may frown upon,” to quote Addabbo, such proposals as they have been pitched before.

Yes, Addabbo has approached his cohorts previously to legalize online casinos. But there is little doubt that the industry can endure and prove valuable to the state of New York.

“You’re looking at a need, a necessity,” Addabbo told PlayNY, “not only to create jobs but to address mental health and addiction and, again, a sustainable plan to address the fiscal situation this year and next year.

“All I do with iGaming and the reasoning behind it is talk about facts. And everything I’ve laid out so far is all factual.”

Daunting financial outlook only creates more urgency for legalization

Facts are what make the issue of legalizing online casinos in New York a love for Addabbo, “because all I get to talk about is facts.”

These talking points will be key in persuading lawmakers to support and include S8185, which would also authorize online poker and internet lottery, in the budget this year. And what are those facts?

New York faces a $4.3 billion deficit this coming year. But Addabbo’s concerns go beyond single-year increments. What about the next deficit? Or the next? Online casino gaming can provide a relatively significant boost for the state each year.

Consider the New York sports betting industry for a moment. In two years, online sportsbooks in NY have combined to set annual handle, revenue and state tax revenue records. Twice. In total, New York has collected over $1.5 billion in tax revenue from sportsbooks. Using 2022 data from New Jersey, which saw online casinos earn 2.03 times as much as its sportsbooks, one could roughly estimate that online casinos in New York would generate $2.77 billion in additional tax revenue.

“It’s a question of what you want to do,” Addabbo said. “You may not want to do iGaming, but you may be in a position where you NEED to do iGaming in New York. Which led us to mobile sports betting, which now we’re looking at two years later the benefits of that.”

Then there’s money lost to other states with legal online casinos or to the illegal market, a component frequently emphasized by Addabbo. And a huge element that is often high on the list for the senator: Addiction and problem gaming. By legalizing online casinos, not only would you infuse the state’s pockets with much-needed revenue, you would also have a stronger ability to identify and treat individuals who suffer from gambling addiction.

Considering a significant portion of Hochul’s Executive Budget addresses mental health and treatment, that provides Addabbo with an extra dose of optimism.

“The governor drives the bus here,” Addabbo said. “I would love for her to embrace the idea of iGaming and iLottery and just maybe understand where we’re at a little bit. This is what the idea of the budget is all about. It’s about dialogue and getting into the details. The details are not in the Executive Budget. That’s what the budget process over the next three months is about.”

What about downstate casinos?

Another potential hurdle involves the downstate casino licensing process. Over a year since the request for applications went out, the state still has not set an official date for submissions. Regulators are currently reviewing and responding to a second (and hopefully final) round of questions, followed (hopefully) soon after by opening the door to actual applications.

As he has before, Addabbo does not foresee this delay causing any problems for online casino legalization.

“The downstate licenses is a separate pathway, already ongoing, than iGaming,” he said. “The only thing I do see is that iGaming increases the value of the downstate license itself. If a license gives you entry to iGaming and it actually promotes the brick-and-mortar better, then the value of the downstate license is increased with the iGaming product.

“But other than that it does not, in my opinion and in the opinion of others, complicate the downstate licensing process. If they’re still talking 2025 or 2026 to realize the downstate license revenue, jobs, everything else – which I think is way too slow; I think we can realize that revenue quicker – iGaming becomes a quicker product to do. Especially with the timeframes I put forth in the bill. We can do iGaming quicker than the downstate licenses.”

Addabbo: Everyone needs to have a say

Certainly, Addabbo has other issues and bills to address and support. This online casino bill, however, ranks high among his priorities.

The industry would serve “the lion’s share of revenue,” he said. It would create jobs, as the bill requires online casino operators to employ union workers for live studio development, among other things, while also funneling some $25 million toward employee training, education and health and development.

That aspect should not go unnoticed, as it is believed the New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council stands as a staunch opponent for legalization, fearing cannibalization of brick-and-mortars.

It would help address problem gaming, with $11 million tucked away annually for the purpose of education and treatment.

The key to legalization rests on a table. A table surrounded by the governor, legislators, labor unions, “anyone,” Addabbo said. Bring everyone together. Discuss the issues at hand. That’s how this bill finally gets across the finish line.

“Over the next three months, I hope these pieces of the puzzle do get put together and form a picture of a very successful product,” Addabbo said. “Not just for this year but for the necessity of dealing with this fiscal situation in the out years.

“And this is a picture of the puzzle of iGaming and iLottery that I would like to put together along with everyone else this year.”

Photo by PlayNY
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is the managing editor for PlayNY. A longtime, award-winning sports writer, Grant has covered gambling and legal sports betting since 2018, when he got his start reporting on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania industries. He now oversees PlayNY as New York expands legalized gambling to sports betting and online casino gaming.

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