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In an exclusive interview with Legal Sports Report, New York Assemblyman Gary Pretlow blamed Gov. Andrew Cuomo and opposition from Indian tribes for the failure to pass sports betting legislation in 2018. He also spoke of the benefit of New Yorkers wagering in neighboring states this NFL season, and explained that the integrity fee for sports leagues will return in next year’s bill.
After a disappointing conclusion to the New York legislative session in which a bill that would have authorized sports betting at racetracks and through mobile betting failed to amount to much in the final week, the bill’s author called sports betting expansion in the Empire State “not dead, but in a coma.”
“It’s not going away,” Pretlow said of sports betting. “My colleagues who are fearful of the expansion of gambling are now going to see it happening all around them, and New York left out.”
While legislation in New York rarely gets passed before June, Pretlow asserted that NY sports betting could be an exception in 2019.
“If I’m still the chair of the Racing and Wagering Committee, we’ll take it up immediately and also make an attempt to put it in the budget,” Pretlow said.
Pretlow indicated that Indian tribes in upstate New York opposed the bill, saying it violated their compacts. Their issue, according to Pretlow, had to do with mobile betting and the possibility that someone located on one reservation could place a wager on the mobile app of another tribal casino.
“There’s a small anti-gambling group in the Assembly, ten people who will never vote for anything to do gambling, period,” Pretlow said. “So I had to depend on upstaters, and upstaters were listening to their casinos in compact zones.”
Pretlow indicated that tribal compact issue also kept the companion bill from passing in the Senate.
“It wasn’t clear sailing in the Senate either,” Pretlow said. “A lot of people, especially Republicans in upstate New York, were concerned about the compacts and whether there were any violations there. Sen. [John] Bonacic tried to explain to his colleagues the same as mine, but their casinos were calling them saying not to vote for this because it was illegal. I don’t agree and neither does Sen. Bonacic.”
Pretlow called the tribal opposition a “knee-jerk reaction” that was unexpected when tribal casinos were previously asking for two to three skins when commercial casinos only wanted one platform each.
Tribal casinos in the state have not responded to Legal Sports Report for requests for comment on sports betting in recent weeks and months.
Pretlow didn’t think the legislature’s lack of movement on the bill was a red light to the New York State Gaming Commission that is working on regulations for sports betting at the four commercial casinos that were authorized for the activity when they were approved in 2013. He expects they will be able to offer sports betting sometime this year, before tribal casinos and racetracks.
The four casinos:
However, without the mobile betting that would have been established in this bill, he doesn’t expect many New Yorkers will venture upstate to place bets at these commercial casinos when it’s closer for them to go into New Jersey, where sports betting already began and mobile betting will exist. The Meadowlands near NYC already has plans to offer sports betting, and NJ mobile wagering will launch next month.)
“This is a state of 17 million people, and 10 million live more than 90 miles from the closest casino,” Pretlow said. “Of those 10 million, nine million live within 20 minutes of New Jersey. So what’s going to happen because we don’t have mobile betting is that people downstate are going to go to New Jersey to bet. All they have to do is go across the bridge and be geolocated in the state.”
While Pretlow wishes his bill passed to keep that money in the state, he sees a possible benefit in the lost revenue. He expects seeing New Jersey thrive at New York’s expense will motivate his colleagues to act next year.
“I’m hoping Jersey throws out some big numbers, because our [eventual] numbers will be three times the numbers in New Jersey,” Pretlow said. “If they do a good number, that will be enough selling point for me to get the bill passed next year.”
After the US Supreme Court declared the federal ban on sports betting unconstitutional in May — opening it up for states to decide whether to allow the wagers — Cuomo extinguished some excitement in the nation’s most populous Eastern state by saying he didn’t expect any action this year.
“If the governor got involved, it probably would have passed but he was not engaged for whatever his reasons were,” Pretlow said. “When the governor was asked for a comment, his only response was we don’t have enough time to get it done this year. I disagreed. If he said there was not enough time, he wanted it to mellow a bit, I guess.”
Pretlow does think there is a chance that the governor includes sports betting in next year’s state budget.
“That’s a possibility,” Pretlow said. “Maybe that’s why the governor didn’t engage, so he could put it in the budget and say he did it. It’s been known to happen before.”
After failing in aggressive lobbying bids to get a cut of sports betting handle in New Jersey and West Virginia, the New York bill provided a royalty fee of 0.2 percent of each wager made to the relevant professional sports league.
Getting that cut in an influential state such as New York would have served the leagues well when talking to lawmakers of other states considering sports betting legislation. Now more states will likely make the integrity fee decision before New York passes a law.
However, Pretlow does intend to bring the royalty back in next year’s bill.
“The royalty fee is not going anywhere,” Pretlow said. “I had all the leagues and the players in favor of the final bill. The players’ associations for the NFL, professional golf and the NBA all met with me that last Wednesday before the end of the session in favor of it.”
Pretlow also explained why he opted to include a fee to the leagues, which was first set at one-quarter of a percent before being lowered to a fifth of a percent in the final week.
“I thought they should get some kind of royalty fee because they will have extra expenses,” Pretlow said. “I wouldn’t ever call it an integrity fee, because I feel they have the highest level of integrity already. It is their product, and they do have intellectual property rights, I imagine – they would have a case. It’s better to have them in the tent with me than outside the tent throwing stones. They were in the tent with me, happy with the 0.2 percent on gross handle.”