September 11, 2019

Addabbo Undeterred...

The Queens Senator made a major push to legalize mobile wagering this year, only to be left disappointed at the end of the New York legislative session. He tells Daniel O’Boyle why he remains hopeful that 2020 will be more successful.

As New York launched its legal sports betting market in July, State Senator Joseph Addabo Jr. was pleased to see his state take a step into regulated gambling on sports. 

Yet in his view, something was still missing. 

“We were a car that was disabled on the side of the road while all the other cars are speeding past us with mobile sports betting and we’re not moving, that was very frustrating,” Addabbo says. “Now we are a car moving, going forward but not going very quickly, there’s still a lot of cars speeding past us.”  

Less than 20 miles from Addabo’s district in Queens lies New Jersey’s online and mobile betting market. The Garden State took $251.4m in bets in July, more than any other state.  

Addabbo—recognizing that for most New Yorkers, crossing the Hudson River was an easier way to bet on sports than travelling 150 miles upstate to the nearest in-state casino—feels New York itself needs mobile sports betting. 

“We’re so close to Jersey, so our residents aren’t going up and driving for two or three hours to place a bet physically at a sportsbook, they’re just going across the border to New Jersey and placing a bet there,” Addabbo explains. “The downstate population are all placing bets in New Jersey. I was very happy with the launch of retail upstate, I visited some of these casinos, I spoke to some people there, they’re creating jobs and there is revenue but it’s small amounts compared to online.” 

It’s not just New Jersey that Addabbo believes legal mobile betting in New York could take money from, as he said the bill would offer an opportunity to curb illegal sportsbook activity. 

“We currently have a lot of illegal sports betting in our state,” Addabbo says. “And as legislators we have the opportunity to corral that illegal activity and realize that revenue. But our governor, in not passing a solution, lets illegal activity continue.  

“This is unrealized revenue that is going to other states and to illegal activity.” 

In January, Addabbo put forward legislation to legalize mobile sports wagering. While the bill’s progress was slow initially, things sped up in June, with the bill passing the Senate, only to fail to secure a floor vote in the Assembly in the final days of the legislative session. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed reservations over the bill’s constitutionality, arguing a statewide referendum on mobile wagering was necessary before it could be permitted. However, Addabbo was confident the bill’s stipulation that online betting serves must be located within a licensed casino covered the constitutional question. 

“We had proven constitutionality was not an issue,” Addabbo says. “We had pointed to the language of our constitution. But the governor and the speaker kept saying, ‘No, it’s unconstitutional’ even though they could never cite any of the language that would actually suggest it was unconstitutional whereas we had pointed to facts.”  

“We had legal briefs, we had actual attorneys and firms unconnected to our state governance, independent legal briefs stating it was a constitutional bill. So the constitutional issue was, I believe, a moot point.” 

In addition, Addabbo said the bill was extremely comprehensive and covered any other possible reasons why the bill may be opposed, including concerns about problem gambling and issues with tribal gaming compacts. 

“This was the D version of the bill, that means this bill went through a number of amendments until it addressed every issue that could have been a problem with mobile sports betting,” Addabbo said.  

He reels off a long list of elements he felt the bill covered: “From making sure it’s accessible to our state, making sure it protects the integrity of our sport, making sure we maximize our potential for revenue for educational funding and, very importantly, addressing gaming addiction, and not only gaming addiction but also before addiction develops with regulation of problem gaming.” 

“We made sure we addressed all of those issues and addressed any issues my colleagues may have had. We even had organizations who were against gambling embrace the bill because of provisions in the bill regarding gaming addiction,” he says. “Enough went into it to ensure we addressed all issues.” 

“We addressed the Indian compact, we made sure that we got a point of view from everyone in the industry, so that shouldn’t have been an issue.” 

That’s why Addabbo was so disappointed that the bill didn’t even get to a vote in the Assembly, particularly as he believed it would have had enough votes to pass. 

Instead, he will now have to wait until the 2020 legislative session. As with 2019, his initial hope is to convince Governor Cuomo to include mobile wagering revenue in the state. However, it’s not a case of repeating this year’s efforts in the hope of grinding opponents down.  

He believes a new state Gaming Commission study might just be the step New York needs to get his bill through. This project, which will include an assessment of the current state of the market, and make recommendations for future changes, is still at the tender stage—a winning bidder should have been announced by August 12. Instead, there are four companies still in the running, meaning the original plan of having a report delivered by December 31 looks unlikely. 

Nevertheless, Addabbo believes such a report could provide a roadmap for a comprehensive overhaul of gaming legislation—one that includes mobile wagering. 

“We need to maximize the potential for online sports betting in this state as other states have done, and as we should have done years ago,” he continues. “I appreciate the lounges and what we’re doing now but we can do so much more. The ideas are right. It’s a step in the right direction, albeit it’s only a small step.” 

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