4 March, 2021

Making up for lost time

Gambling Insider caught up with New York Senator, and racing, gaming and wagering committee chairman Joseph Addabbo, Jr, on his thoughts on the possibility of mobile sports wagering in the state, which looks as if it has finally taken a step closer to becoming reality.

It's been a long time in the making, but mobile sports wagering in New York could finally happen. Following Governor Andrew Cuomo's comments in early January where he announced legislation that would authorise mobile sports betting, all eyes will now be on the state to see whether it can compete with neighbouring New Jersey.

Keen advocate of New York sports betting - and crucially mobile sports betting - New York Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr, spoke exclusively to GI Huddle to react to the comments and provide more information to his own senate bill.

There's been some breaking news this week regarding the Governor Cuomo's comments in New York and we know you've been a campaigner for mobile sports betting for a long time. Can you give some initial reaction to what he said?

You know, we were quite happy with the statement, that the Governor has embraced mobile sports betting. I appreciate and agree with him on that point but the rollercoaster started because he basically proposed a structure for mobile sports betting in New York. We differ on that point. So we'll now start negotiating with the Governor's office, to build on the common ground where we want to do mobile sports betting in New York, but how we do it is where the negotiations start.

Can you tell us some of the details and ins and outs of what he's proposed and where you disagree?

I wish I could talk to you about the details but there's really not much at this stage. He will unveil his details on mobile sports betting and how he wants to use the lottery division in New York, not only in his state of the state, but also during his executive budget, which comes out on 19 January.

This one single entity, the New York lottery division, and to run everything through there, which he is proposing with basically one sportsbook provider, to me at this point is problematic. My bill [Senate Bill S1183, relating to the regulation of sports betting and mobile sports wagering] was reintroduced and, basically, we're using multiple skins helping our gaming sites because quite frankly we have an opportunity here in New York.

It's not just about doing mobile sports betting, but about revenue that we certainly need after the pandemic. It's also about creating jobs. We feel our bill creates jobs throughout New York State. We had 3.8 million people who applied for unemployment, so we know there are people looking for jobs out there; our economics are suffering. There lies one of the biggest differences: our bill and our mechanism for sports betting to create jobs.

"It's not just about doing mobile sports betting. It's about revenue that we certainly need after the pandemic and it's about creating jobs. We feel our bill creates jobs throughout New York State. We had 3.8 million people who applied for unemployment, so we know there are people looking for jobs out there; our economics are suffering."

After the Governor's most recent comments, are you in a more positive frame of mind about the possibility of mobile sports betting coming than previously?

The short answer is yes. The ball is moving ever so closely to the goal line. I always said it was a question of if not when mobile sports betting in New York will be legalised. It will happen. Now, I am optimistic that it's going to happen this year.

That's definitely the attitude shared by executives in the industry as well. But do you think if it weren't for COVID-19, then perhaps the Governor might have leaned more towards his old stance, and that the need for revenue has maybe made him think it's no longer about principle but the fact he has to go for it?

I thought New York should have been part of sports betting right when PASPA was overturned back in 2018. I thought we should've been out front. You know New York is usually out front in terms of policy and other states usually look to us to see what we're doing. We find ourselves in a very strange situation where we're actually on the outside looking in.

I've said that we're the car in the slow lane with three wheels limping along and there are other cars, such as New Jersey, speeding by us. So I really think we're playing catch up here. I think we should have been doing sports betting and mobile sports betting back in 2019. But let's go forward. I'm hopeful that maybe because of the pandemic and the economic situation we find ourselves in or otherwise, let's move forward and do mobile sports betting in New York.

New Jersey is a key point to raise as it's a neighbouring state that is doing so well with sports betting revenue. How much of a factor do you think the Governor looking at New Jersey's figures was in changing his mind? I believe it was a big factor, especially in a pandemic when you want your residents to stay in the state safely and not travel to nearby states to bet. You want people to stay safe, but in 2019, a report came out that said $837 million goes from New York to New Jersey because they are doing something like 90% mobile sports betting at this point and they are doing it successfully.

But that's our money that's going to them. That's our revenue, our educational funds, our jobs basically going to New Jersey, so I do think that's part of it. We also have a very large illegal market here in New York and basically between the New Jersey money and the illegal market money lost, we're losing about $1bn a year in my estimation. We can debate the numbers, but the fact is New Jersey is taking our money at this point. As for New York, we want to keep our money and keep our jobs here so, again, I think it's time to legalise mobile sports betting.

In his defence is the point about responsible gambling. What can New York do, aside from capitalising on revenue, to make sure responsible gambling measures are there to protect problem gamblers?

We can build upon the successful programs we already have. The New York Gaming Commission has been given accolades and awards nationally for its job in addressing gaming addiction. That's great and we appreciate their efforts. In our assembly bill for sports betting, we actually create new revenue as a fraction of a percentage from our handle from mobile sports betting. We not only create new revenue for gaming addiction, but for pre-addiction, so that's education to stop someone from having an addiction.

Also in our bill are safeguards. For instance, if a bettor goes above a certain monthly threshold, that account is frozen and that person is contacted to make sure they're ok. There are safeguards in our bill to address the problem of addiction, which is a priority for me and why those who are advocates embrace our bill, because it does create extra revenue for these programs. The Governor was kind of silent in the initial proposal that he laid out, so that's another topic we need to negotiate going forward.

What sort of time frame are you hopeful for to get mobile sports betting legalised?

I want it tomorrow basically. I was hopeful we could've done a revenue package that would've included not only mobile sports betting but activation of the downstate gaming licences in New York as a way of raising about $1bn in revenue, before the budget. It doesn't seem that way. Instead, it seems the timeframe could be part of the budget that gets approved in April. From now until April, the Governor's budget comes out on 19 January, which then starts the negotiations. You'll see the issue of mobile sports betting evolve from now, leading up to April.