There has to be an appetite … once I didn’t see an appetite, I stopped talking about it.
Lawmakers in New York have introduced igaming expansion bills for the past decade. This year was no exception — Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon) and Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) introduced separate pieces of legislation to legalize casino gaming and online poker in New York.
Neither Pretlow’s bill (A1380, to legalize online poker) nor Addabbo’s (S4856, for online casino) were included in one-house budget bills released by the Assembly and the Senate, so neither NY online poker nor casino is likely to launch any time soon.
But both bills are still alive because the New York State Legislature meets biennially — lawmakers could still take action on either A1380, S4856, or both until June, and then again between January and June 2024.
In an exclusive interview, Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. explains why his bill wasn’t included in the one-house budgets this year and how he plans to move forward.
Your igaming expansion bill wasn’t included in the state budget. What happened?
Well, it took us three years to do mobile [sports betting]. And so, you throw out igaming because it’s an idea, right?
Whether it be the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] needs funding, or we’ll want to pay for mental health — whatever it is. You know you need revenue. You’re facing a possible recession next year. The feds aren’t giving you the birthday gift they get every year, billions of dollars — whatever it is. So, I offer this and I say, “Hey listen, this is an immediate [opportunity to make] about a billion dollars for you to consider.”
And I can’t be the only one. There has to be an appetite on the governor’s side, on my side [in the Senate], on the Assembly side, on the union side, the Hotel Trades Council [HTC]. There has to be an appetite, [and] once I didn’t see an appetite, I stopped talking about it.
You know, it’s gonna happen. I laugh because I know it’s gonna happen. But what bothers me most is that every year that we don’t do igaming, we lose about a billion dollars. And forget about helping people who might be doing it already — and they are. We’ve got zero help for them. Zero. Because we know who they are. They’re doing it in Jersey, Pennsylvania, illegally. We can’t help them. So, that’s another day we go without helping people with an addiction.
So, it’s out there. I stopped talking about it. Somebody else, maybe somewhere down the line, they will figure it out. If they wanna do this, I’m ready.
You’re not planning on doing anything more with your bill, S4856?
No, I’m not planning it. Again, I can’t be the only one. I’m ready. I got language. We can negotiate this thing. We can finalize everything in about 48 hours, in my opinion. But it can’t be just me.
A powerful hotel and casino workers’ union opposes your bill because they say online casino gaming will impact land-based gaming and their members. You shared reports with the union that show otherwise. Do you think the union can be brought on board?
I do. I’ll be optimistic. All the naysayers and everyone who’s given us issues about why not to do it, we’ve addressed them all, [including] cannibalization of brick-and-mortar [casino revenue].
There is not an issue that I have not heard of that I have not addressed.
To your point, [studies conducted recently in] Indiana and New Jersey show that when igaming revenues go up, in-person brick-and-mortar revenues go up. In the language of the bill, we protect union members with a fund, but we also increase the number of workers and union workers by having the live dealers and their studios be in the state. So, we increase employees and we protect the employees.
There is not an issue that I have not heard of that I have not addressed. ‘Oh, it’s going to slow down the process of the downstate casino licenses.’ No way — two separate tracks, and the one that has the downstate licenses on it is moving forward. We’re not interfering with it all. The tribal nations? There’s no problem with that — the server has to be on our land, we control the server. Every issue that’s been put in front of me, I’ve addressed.
Like I said — to me, it’s not a question of if, but when. If it will be this year, fine. Because if you do it legislatively this year, you recognize the money next year. But if we legislatively plan for 2024, you’re not realizing the funding until 2025. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous, but whatever.