Is A Constitutional Amendment Finally In Play For Mobile NY Sports Betting?

Posted on April 20, 2020

It might be time to pursue a constitutional amendment to legalize mobile NY sports betting, according to one key legislator.

After another failed effort to include mobile in the budget and with uncertainty over the remainder of the session due to the coronavirus pandemic, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow said he would push for a constitutional amendment bill to expand New York sports betting this session.

Pretlow indicated that, in addition to mobile sports wagering, he wants the amendment to include allowing sports betting at off-track betting parlors and sports facilities.

“Since we probably won’t be going back to session but a couple times the rest of the year, I want to do a constitutional amendment including all we want to do so that no one can use constitutionality as an argument against it,” Pretlow said.

New York lawmakers had been trying to avoid pursuing a constitutional amendment because of the further delay it requires. The legislature needs to pass the amendment bill this year and next to get it on the ballot. Then it needs to get approval from voters in November 2021.

Meanwhile, once sports are back up, many New Yorkers will continue to take the more convenient option of going into New Jersey to place bets.

Was legislative support there for NY budget?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie continue to stand in the way of mobile sports betting.

Pretlow said he had 84 Assembly members who supported including mobile sports wagering in the budget.

“I do know that the Speaker had indications from the governor that he didn’t want to deal with it,” Pretlow said. “So rather than poking a stick in the governor’s eye, which we should have done and probably could have done, we held off. The bulk of the year is going to be lost anyway.”

It takes 76 votes to have a majority in the Assembly, which often can compel the Speaker to act. Senate leadership did ask for the inclusion of mobile NY sports betting, according to Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr.

Pretlow and Addabbo went into budget season with the plan to get mobile sports wagering in their one-house budgets, putting pressure on the governor. Pretlow said it’s doubtful the Assembly would have included mobile in its budget because of Heastie’s opposition.

“The support was there this year as it was last year, so two years in a row that Speaker Heastie has dismissed it,” Addabbo said. “It’s a shame. The support is there. If that bill gets to the floor, it passes, but the Speaker decides which bills get to the floor. Until he can be convinced otherwise, he’ll be an obstacle.”

Revenue bill a better way for NY mobile?

The budget completed earlier this month included no new revenue despite projections that the economic shutdown will bring much less money into state coffers next year.

There’s an expectation that the legislature will return at some point this year to work on a supplementary revenue bill. That could be an opening for mobile sports betting in New York.

“With roughly a $15 billion deficit caused mostly by the virus and no built-in revenues, I’m still not letting up on doing mobile sports betting in a legislative revenue package this year,” Addabbo said.

Addabbo has been steadfast in not wanting to do an amendment. However, if nothing else can be done this session, he agrees it is time.

“While a constitutional amendment is an option, I wouldn’t want to miss another session to do it,” Addabbo said. “I would only do that as a last resort. If the revenue package doesn’t materialize, I’ll do the amendment.”

NY gaming study provides ray of hope

The NY gaming study may now have an impact this year despite a series of events that could have limited its usefulness in 2020.

Originally, the NY gaming study was to be completed at the end of December. The New York State Gaming Commission pushed back the study by delaying the selection of conducting firm by three months.

The commission reportedly did this to allow for additional applicants. However, Spectrum Gaming Group, eventually chosen to do the study, was among the original applicants.

Though the delay was only three months, the dates for the first draft and final draft were pushed back five months. This made it so that the first draft wasn’t due until April 1, the day the budget was due. The final report is due June 1, the day before the legislative session was to end.

Addabbo and Pretlow asked the NYSGC to see the first draft of the report. The response was that they would only see the final copy. In a normal legislative session, this would be too late for it to make an impact on this session.

Extension of legislative session could make study relevant

The coronavirus has hit New York harder than any state. After multiple legislators tested positive for coronavirus, the legislature met remotely to pass the budget.

Both legislative chambers have adjourned indefinitely and it is unclear if they will return this year. Addabbo and Pretlow expect the legislature will reconvene in September to address coronavirus response measures.

The extension provides enough time for everyone to digest the NY gaming study for it to make an impact in a push to include mobile sports wagering in a revenue bill.

“We were hoping it would come out slightly before the end of the session where we could use it for something,” Addabbo said. “Now, it certainly seems we’ll go beyond June 2 for the session, so we’ll be able to use the study, and hopefully, it will be a blueprint for where we can go forward.”

Enabling legislation still needed for NY sports betting

Even if voters approve mobile NY sports betting, the legislature would still need to pass a bill authorizing it.

Pretlow contended that the legislature could work to pass enabling legislation next session that wouldn’t go into effect until after Election Day.

However, given Cuomo’s stance, it seems more likely for a mobile bill to pass after voters give approval.

Addabbo said the governor should take this opportunity to negotiate with lawmakers what he would like to see in a sports betting expansion. A constitutional amendment bill doesn’t go through the governor.

“We can draw up a constitutional amendment the way we want to do it instead of including the governor and his administration, and we may put something in there that he won’t like,” Addabbo said. “We wanted the governor’s office to be part of this process, not to kick the can down the road and take him out of the equation. That’s good government, when the governor’s office, Senate and Assembly work together.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News, where he covered the NFL, Kobe-Shaq three-peat, Pete Carroll’s USC football teams, USC basketball, pro tennis, Kings hockey and fulfilled his childhood dream of sitting in the Dodgers’ dugout. His reporting on efforts to legalize sports betting began in 2010, when Playboy Magazine flew him to Prague to hang out with Calvin Ayre and show how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting expansion of regulated sports betting across the country. A USC journalism alum, Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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