Meadowlands Racetrack and Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural lives in an interesting gray area between New Jersey and New York sports betting.
When it comes to adding mobile NY sports betting, Gural finds himself squarely in the middle of the debate.
Gural told Legal Sports Report this week that he is not pushing for mobile betting to be included in the rules issued by the New York State Gaming Commission. He admits, though, that he might have more of a sense of urgency to have mobile were he not already dipping his long straw from New Jersey into New York City to drink the state’s milkshake, Daniel Plainview-style.
“I’m conflicted because I own the Meadowlands and benefit in New Jersey by New York not having sports wagering other than upstate,” said Gural, who owns Tioga Downs Casino Resort in New York and Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey. “It would be a bigger issue if I didn’t own the Meadowlands.”
Two New York legislators plan to lobby the governor to push for the inclusion of mobile wagering in the final rules and regulations issued for legal sports betting at four upstate casinos.
Battle booms over mobile NY sports betting
In 2013, the NY state legislature authorized, and voters approved, a constitutional amendment allowing for sports betting at four new upstate casinos pending a change in federal law. That change occurred last year when the Supreme Court struck down PASPA.
Last week, the state gaming commission issued preliminary rules and regulations for the casinos to offer sports betting, but did not include mobile or online wagering.
There is a 60-day comment period before the rules can be finalized. Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who chair their respective chambers’ racing and gaming committees, intend to fight for the inclusion of mobile betting during that time.
The legislators argue that as long as servers are located at the casinos and people register for online accounts in person, it shouldn’t matter that bets are placed remotely.
Governor’s office disagrees with legislators
However, representatives of Gov. Andrew Cuomo believe mobile wagering is an expansion of gambling that requires a constitutional amendment, which would be a three-year process. That does not concern Gural at this point:
“It doesn’t matter what I think, it’s what the governor thinks. But my own opinion, based on the legal opinions that I’ve ready from smart people, is that it’s where the server is that’s considered where the bet is being made, so it shouldn’t need a constitutional amendment. That’s how it works in New Jersey, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t be the same in New York.”
Gural added he does think legislation is needed to authorize online wagering, contrary to what the legislators are claiming.
“Gary and Addabbo are friends of mine and they want to be able to see people in New York City bet on sports legally in the state, which makes sense,” Gural said. “Right now my focus is really on getting the brick-and-mortar up and running and let others argue about the constitutionality issue.”
The money is in mobile
Addabbo and Pretlow don’t want to wait to get a constitutional amendment to bring online wagering to New York and continue allowing sports bettors in New York City to give revenue to New Jersey or offshore websites.
More than 8.5 million people live in the nation’s largest city and aren’t likely to drive 100 miles upstate when they want to place a bet when they can go 15 miles to the Meadowlands or just across state lines to bet in New Jersey from a mobile app.
Gural acknowledged that the Meadowlands gets four times more revenue from mobile than onsite wagering.
Mobile signup could be key
Even if the commission did as Pretlow and Addabbo want and allowed mobile NY sports betting with in-person signups, Gural doesn’t think it would make the intended impact on revenue.
He thinks the key to NJ success is that people don’t have to go to the Meadowlands to register.
“Clearly, most of the customers are online customers,” Gural said. “But most people will tell you that if you don’t have online signups, it won’t succeed. Asking someone who is betting illegally now to jump in a car and drive to a casino to bet legally – they’ll most likely just continue to bet illegally.”
Online betting presents opportunity
Gural does eventually want to have mobile and online wagering for Tioga Downs, and he thinks mobile can only help the brick-and-mortar casino business.
He also argues that online wagering isn’t expanding gambling in the state, but capturing existing gambling for the state.
“There’s no arguing if people should bet online on sports,” Gural said. “There’s only arguing whether people should be able to bet online legally and have it taxed and regulated. I know in New Jersey, the head of the gaming commission said he had uncovered over 100 illegal gaming websites active in the state, so you have to assume it’s similar in New York.”
Unlike with Plainview, the oil tycoon in the movie There Will Be Blood, who drained the oil from neighboring properties, the sports betting pool in New York will remain for the state to tap into when it is ready.
However, with a projected $2.3 billion deficit, the state might want to make use of that ready revenue sooner rather than later.