(The Center) – Members of the New York State Legislature Budget Conference Committee met Wednesday for the first time to hash out the differences in their budget plans.
One such difference involves gambling, as the Senate’s budget plan involves issuing as many as three licenses for casino resorts in the downstate region. The House’s version does not. The Cuomo administration hasn’t really spoken on the issue recently, but during his state of the state address in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo mentioned seeking requests for information from gaming companies interested in operating a casino in or around New York City.
A recently released study from Spectrum Gaming Group estimates three casino resorts could generate $842 million in new tax revenues by 2025.
Speaking with The Center Square on Tuesday, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens, said he’s not worried about the plans not seeing eye-to-eye right now.
“That's where conversations and negotiations will start,” said Addabbo, who chairs the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering. “You know, you can imagine a very complex budget of the state. There are many differences on many issues. So, that's okay to be in that position.”
Currently, state gaming law prevents the downstate licenses from being awarded until 2023. That was done to give the four upstate resorts an opportunity to mature. However, that was well before the COVID-19 pandemic cratered New York City’s and the state’s economy.
Addabbo isn’t the only one who has talked about New York City casinos. New York Yankees President Randy Levine, who previously served as the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, has supported casinos as an economic booster. Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang has called for building one on Governor’s Island.
“Immediately these three licenses – one, two or three – would mean thousands of jobs, construction jobs, union jobs, long-term full-time jobs,” Addabbo said. “You know, that's what you look for when you’re looking to come out of a pandemic. So, it's not only about revenue, it's about the job growth.”
The downstate casino topic won’t be the only gaming issue the parties will discuss. Both the Assembly and Senate budgets include mobile sports betting. Their plans look identical, with each casino, including tribal ones, having the chance to partner with two mobile operators. The fee for each mobile license is $12 million, with mobile revenues taxed at 12 percent.
Cuomo, who had long opposed expanding beyond offering sportsbooks at casinos, has warmed to the idea in recent months as the state has sought new revenue streams. However, his proposal has been for the state to control mobile sports betting in a fashion akin to the lottery.
The administration believes that model can generate hundreds of millions in revenue for the state. However, Addabbo said smaller states and the District of Columbia have tried that approach with less than stellar results.
The proposal from lawmakers is modeled after such states as New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Addabbo said it’s up to the lawmakers to impress upon the administration that that model is better for the state.
With legal options across the river as well as bookies and unregulated offshore books serving as competition, New York needs a mobile sports betting product that will keep those gamblers from utilizing the other options.
A poll released by the Siena College Research Institute this week shows 51 percent of registered voters back expanding sports betting to allow for online apps. Only 30 percent oppose it, while 18 percent have no opinion.
The budget talks start with a cloud hanging over the Cuomo administration, thanks to scandals involving nursing home policy and alleged sexual harassment. Many lawmakers – including Democrats – have called on the governor to step down, as they question how effective he can be in managing budget negotiations and the pandemic while being investigated.
Addabbo, though, is not among them. He said the governor may very well be distracted, but he has staff, like Budget Director Rob Mujica, who have jobs and responsibilities tied to budget negotiations.
He also wants to see how the independent investigation overseen by Attorney General Letitia James plays out.
“Allegations need to be turned into factually sworn in statements, and then we'll have a basis for our options, which include legislative options, impeachment options and calling for resignation,” Addabbo said.