With Gov. Andrew Cuomo warning that New York revenues are $2.3 billion below projections, Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. is calling for a three-year plan to expand NY gaming — including online poker and full-scale online gambling — that would maximize revenue to the state.
“When the governor is behind something, it moves,” Addabbo told Online Poker Report this week.
“I would really hope to have the governor have an initiative behind the legalized expansion of gaming in our state. To maximize our potential as a state in this industry and for the recreational purposes of our residents, we need an initiative.”
Addabbo would like to see Cuomo push for a multi-phased plan before the April 1 budget deadline.
The first phase would allow mobile sports betting via the upstate commercial and tribal casinos that will soon offer in-person betting, capturing that revenue for the current budget.
Subsequent phases could include sports betting at racetracks, off-track betting parlors, and possibly other facilities. Further expansions surrounding online poker, online casinos, and the inclusion of downstate casinos are also on Addabbo’s radar.
“In this day and age, we do everything from ordering food to purchasing movie tickets through the phone. Mobile is part of our daily lives. Doing something as big as sports betting or any other type of gaming and cutting out the mobile aspect really leaves us in the 20th century, and I’d like to stay in the 21st century.”
Lawmakers have pursued online poker legislation with modest efforts in recent years, but nothing related to more comprehensive online gambling.
Under the standing logic, the legislature can move to legalize online poker independently as a game of skill. Legalizing online casinos, on the other hand, would likely require a constitutional amendment as an expansion of gambling.
Addabbo, however, is building a case to argue that locating gaming servers within the NY casinos would satisfy the constitutional restrictions and allow online sports wagering. And he’s ready to double down and apply that same logic to online gambling, avoiding the three years it could take to initiate a referendum and amend the constitution.
The upstate casinos already offer slots and table games on property, so hosting them online could be seen as a modernized implementation of those existing offerings.
“It’s not recreating the wheel,” Addabbo said. “In terms of gaming, we already have it in the state. The online portion is a mere enhancement of that recreation. To me, it’s inevitable. As long as lawmakers want to maximize revenue, increase education funding and create jobs, we need to look for ways to think creatively.”
New York lawmakers have tried and failed to pass online poker bills for several years running now. The Senate has twice moved on a bill only to see momentum evaporate in the Assembly.
For starters, Speaker Carl Heastie doesn’t appear to be a fan of the efforts. And entering the 2019 session, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow admitted that online poker has become an afterthought behind the more lucrative opportunity of sports betting.
Addabbo, who sponsored S 18 to legalize online poker, agrees that sports betting has become the priority. He and Pretlow still want to see NY online poker materialize, though, and the Assemblyman has also reintroduced his online poker bill (A 4924) into the lower chamber.
“I’m in favor of online poker but it’s a totally different conversation,” Addabbo said. “I’m having a hard enough time with sports betting. We have to get more people on the same page. But other states are doing it; other states are making money. To me, it’s doable. I think it happens in the state eventually.”
The case study next door in New Jersey doesn’t exactly reveal a prime opportunity. Not including sports betting, NJ online poker sites are responsible for less than one-tenth of the total NJ online gambling tax revenue.
Addabbo, though, remains undeterred. “Whatever [money] online poker would get us is money we don’t have,” he said. “I want to maximize that revenue number.”
Just this week, Cuomo told lawmakers that New York’s slipping tax revenues are “serious as a heart attack.”
Fully realizing the state’s potential for gambling revenue — particularly through online/mobile offerings for poker, sports betting and casino gambling — would lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding. Expansion wouldn’t solve all of the state’s financial woes, of course, but it would provide a non-insignificant chunk of revenue that could spare select state services from the chopping block.
Addabbo noted that some colleagues are concerned about the pace of gambling expansion in other states. He, however, sees the inaction in his own state as a bigger cause for concern. The gambling industries in neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania have already passed New York by.
“I understand their concerns, but when you watch our money get siphoned up by other states — you want revenue and you don’t want to cut services — the answer is standing right in front of you,” Addabbo said. “I personally think we have moved very slowly on this. We could have done a better job as a state to be up with Jersey and realizing these revenue dollars earlier.”