Governor Andrew Cuomo simply does not want to approve mobile NY sports betting, according to the lawmaker at the center of the debate.
Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. disputes Cuomo’s explanation that the governor holds concern about the constitutionality of mobile sports betting in New York.
“They don’t believe it’s unconstitutional in my opinion,” Addabbo said. “They just don’t want it.”
A week after Assembly leadership declined to put NY sports betting legislation to a vote that would have passed, Addabbo said Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie are using the constitutionality issue as an excuse for personal aversion to gambling expansion.
Tell me why, won’t you?
Addabbo and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow championed a bill that would have permitted upstate casinos to offer statewide NY mobile sports wagering and partner with racetracks, off-track betting parlors and professional sports facilities.
Addabbo said after lawmakers presented legal opinions that offering mobile wagering through the approved casinos was constitutional to the governor’s office, Heastie and Cuomo never could answer him as to why it wasn’t.
Addabbo and Pretlow told Legal Sports Report their goal before the session restarts in January is to get the governor to lay out his true concerns about mobile sports wagering.
“I’m going to set up a meeting with the governor’s office sometime between now and then to try to hash this out and find out what his real objection is,” Pretlow said. “The first objection is never the real one. I just want to hear what the governor has to say.”
Mobile NY sports betting votes were there
Pretlow indicated he had 79 Democratic supporters for the mobile NY sports betting bill, which the Senate passed by an overwhelming 57-5 margin.
Assuming that is the case, the comprehensive sports betting legislation easily would have passed if only Heastie put it up for a vote.
Pretlow indicated that Heastie told him he was not going to put the bill on the floor because the governor had stated he would veto it, which Addabbo sees as a cop-out.
“Tell us you’re not going to bring it to the floor because you’re philosophically against it,” Addabbo said. “Don’t tell us you’re not going to put it on the floor because the governor won’t sign it. That’s not our role.”
Addabbo wanted to press Cuomo on mobile
Addabbo lamented that the governor’s expected action should not be a consideration when the will of the legislature is to pass a bill.
“To me, the whole ideology not to pass in the Assembly was wrong,” Addabbo said. “Is it our job to put bills to the floor only that the governor will sign? That’s not the role of the legislature. The legislature legislates. You pass it and let the governor make a decision.”
He added that if mobile NY wagering isn’t constitutional, then it would face a legal challenge and the governor should let it be decided by the judicial system.
The added benefit of putting the bill on the governor’s desk, according to Addabbo, would be to make him explain the veto. If Cuomo stated the veto was because mobile sports wagering needs a constitutional amendment, the legislature would know what it has to do.
Explaining the constitutionality issue
In 2013, NY legislators put a referendum on the ballot to gain voter approval for changing the state constitution to allow for casino gaming. Legal sports betting was included as a form of gambling the casinos could offer if permitted by federal law.
The New York Gaming Commission recently enacted rules for in-person wagering to start at the upstate casinos, which is being planned for launch early in NFL season. But New York City residents aren’t likely to drive upstate to place a bet when they easily can do so across the border of New Jersey.
“My residents downstate are not going to go to casinos upstate just for sports betting,” said Addabbo, whose district includes areas of Queens. “They’re just not.”
Cuomo’s budget director expressed concerns early in the session that adding mobile wagering would require a constitutional amendment to allow for NY sports betting outside the casinos. Addabbo and Pretlow argued that the mobile bets would take place at casinos through on-site servers.
Why not just do the constitutional amendment?
A constitutional amendment in New York is at least a three-year process. The referendum needs to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions before being put in front of voters.
Addabbo doesn’t want to wait three years while money continues to go to New Jersey and the NY gaming industry suffers:
“I said to the governor around budget time, if your plan is a constitutional amendment then I’d hate to see the status of our OTBs, racetracks and casinos three years from now because they need help now. You talk to casinos and they say they are on the cusp of laying off 300 to 400 people. If we’re talking a constitutional amendment, that’s three years of other states passing us by.”
Once it became obvious that Assembly leadership and the governor weren’t going to let the bill happen this year, why not at least get the constitutional amendment process started?
Addabbo indicated he spoke with legal counsel toward the middle of the session and found because this is the first year of a two-year legislative session, it made no difference to pass a constitutional amendment this year or next.
Will Cuomo come along or get left behind?
Another reason to believe Cuomo has other reasons for opposing mobile wagering is that he stated in a radio interview early in the session that he was not a fan of mobile wagering and the idea that everyone could bet from their phones.
Addabbo noted that the lawmakers share concerns regarding problem gambling, and that’s why the bill included 14 points to address that issue. Those included requiring that account holders need to acknowledge receiving problem gambling resources from an operator once lifetime deposits exceed $2,500.
If Cuomo has other concerns he wants to address, Addabbo said the governor should work with lawmakers to incorporate them into a bill rather than have them pursue a constitutional amendment.
“The governor has nothing to do with the constitutional amendment process,” Addabbo said. “If the governor says the constitution has to be amended, then we’ll start the constitutional amendment process, which cuts the governor out.”
Addabbo stated he can draft legislation with Pretlow with no input from the governor, then bring it to the people of the state.
“I would much rather have worked with the governor’s office on this and come to some three-way agreement to realize revenue and educational funding now, protecting jobs and helping the economy of our state now,” Addabbo said.
Legislators preparing three-pronged attack
Pretlow and Addabbo expressed hope that mobile wagering could get done early next year through the budget.
Addabbo wants to put out three options to get to mobile sports wagering: budgetary, legislative, and a constitutional amendment. He sees no reason why a constitutional amendment can’t proceed at the same time as other ways.
As they carry over to the second year of the session, the bills won’t have to be reintroduced.
“We do know that the current language of the bill is supported by pretty much everyone in the industry, passed the Senate and had enough votes for the Assembly,” Addabbo said. “Once we convince the governor and Speaker that we resolved the constitutionality issue that never existed, maybe we can do this next year.”
Pretlow expressed disappointment not to get mobile wagering done this year. However, he is looking forward to doing it early in 2020.
“The Speaker is not a fan of gaming, he’s made that quite clear,” Pretlow said. “But he’s still obliged to do the will of the House, and the House right now wants to do this. We’ll get it done. I haven’t given up on this. We’ll definitely get it done.”
Integrity fee has staying power in NY
However, New York has stuck with a 0.20% royalty to the leagues, and Addabbo doesn’t see that changing based on what other states have done.
“New York is unique,” Addabbo said. “Many leagues have headquarters here, so New York has a different relationship to these leagues. We’re the only state doing it but it’s kind of a low percentage. The integrity fee hasn’t been a sticking point with industry operators, so I don’t see it as a big issue.”