Time Is Running Out To Legalize NY iCasino This Year

empire state building

For weeks now, New York state Sen. Joe Addabbo has lamented the difficulty of getting other state leaders interested in legalizing online casino games during the upcoming fiscal year.

“I can’t be the only one,” Addabbo told US Bets. “It can’t just be one legislator.”

Now, with the state budget deadline of April 1 looming — though, bear in mind, the deadline is frequently extended — Addabbo is running out of time to get others to line up behind Senate Bill 4856. The bill, which Addabbo introduced Feb. 15, would grant licenses to mobile sportsbook operators, casinos, tribes, and racinos to run mobile casino gaming including slots, virtual table games, and live dealer games.

Once general spending guidelines are in place, lawmakers in each chamber use the governor’s executive budget as a template for constructing their own budgets. These are called “one-house” budget bills because they reflect the priority of each house.

One-house budgets are released next week, and Addabbo says that if he doesn’t hear movement toward getting iCasino in the Senate or Assembly one-house budget in the next few days, the effort is dead for 2023-2024. (Some reports suggested the deadline was this Thursday, but Addabbo clarified to US Bets that isn’t the case.)

“If it’s not in the one-house, even just a mere mention, we’re done,” Addabbo said. “You don’t want it, fine.”

Addabbo said he is certain it’s a matter of “when” rather than “if” New York offers legal, regulated mobile casino games. Based on research by Spectrum Gaming and other testimony, Addabbo estimates New York is losing $1 billion annually as its citizens play iCasino games in neighboring states or via the black market.

He and Assembly ally J. Gary Pretlow hosted a roundtable discussion Tuesday with stakeholders and state leaders, and Addabbo said most attendees came away convinced that mobile casino games won’t cannibalize business from brick-and-mortar casinos and racinos.

Addabbo’s iCasino bill also would make an extra $11 million available for the state to combat problem gambling issues.

Is gambling expansion in general on hold?

Addabbo has been pushing for an alternative to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to use license fees and tax dollars from three downstate casinos currently in the licensing process to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is under duress coming out of the pandemic. Addabbo has suggested instead to fund the MTA in part with iCasino tax funds, which could be available sooner than brick-and-mortar casino funds since Hochul didn’t project earnings from those projects until 2026.

In fact, Addabbo said the Senate and Assembly simply won’t go along with the plan Hochul outlined in the first draft of her executive budget.

“As a legislature, we’re going to say no,” Addabbo said. “That’s money for education. Instead of talking about money already allocated for education, why not take new money not spoken for and say we could use it for the MTA? That’s iGaming. It’s quicker than the downstate casino route and we’d be up and running with MTA money.”

In the wake of several reports in The New York Times that shined a negative light on the intersections of politics and gambling, many people believe gambling expansion will be on the back burner for a while in New York — in part because Hochul seems to have slowed her level of interest in it. But Addabbo, at least for the moment, is continuing the fight to offer New Yorkers access to the same online games New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut residents can play today.

“Why not this year?” Addabbo said. “Why not at least put it in the one-house, because let’s be honest, if it’s not in there, we’re done, we don’t talk about this until next year. And I’m not going to be the only one talking about this.”

Photo: Mladen Antonov/Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales