NY Sports Gambling Law Changes Possible, But Times Square Casino Unlikely
Whether Republican Lee Zeldin is elected governor, or New Yorkers choose to keep incumbent Kathy Hochul, there is an uncertain future for all forms of legalized gambling in New York because of a host of unknowns.
Would Zeldin want to repeal the law that opened up legalized sports gambling in January, bringing in more than $500 million of tax revenues in 2022 thus far? Would he want higher or lower taxes on the nine sportsbooks operating in New York? Would he support a casino in Manhattan, where local community opposition has more or less wiped out the possibility of a casino in Times Square?
These are all unknowns as Election Day approaches in the Empire State, with one poll showing a dead heat between Zeldin and Hochul. Discussing some of those unknowns was the topic of the day Thursday, as Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D) sat with Casino.org for a two-hour interview to discuss legalized gaming issues.
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Pretlow, cochair of the state Racing and Wagering commission, said a Zeldin victory would bring a change in dynamics to the state capitol of Albany. That would inject several unknowns into the state’s legalized gambling infrastructure.
“The people who run the gaming commission, he could change them,” Pretlow explained. “I have listened to him and looked at the issues that he is campaigning on, and gambling is not one of them. He might be anti-gambling. But Andrew Cuomo was anti-gambling, too, until one day he wasn’t.”
Pretlow, a Democrat from Mount Vernon in suburban Westchester County, said any gambling law changes that would be made under a Zeldin Administration would come through the state’s budgeting process. That’s where the legislature is effectively a rubber stamp for whatever the governor wants to prioritize.
Negotiating changes to budget proposals was always a possibility historically. As a result, New York’s current sports gambling law could be amended. And the current law under which several companies are applying for three downstate casino licenses, which would allow for fully-operational casinos by the end of 2023, could be impacted, too.
Pretlow said community opposition in most of Manhattan is so strong that he could envision only one casino proposal possibly getting approved — at the Hudson Yards development on the West Side of midtown Manhattan.
“That is the only thing with legs, and I don’t think that will fly either for the same reason,” Pretlow said.
He said the Times Square proposal involving the real estate company S.L. Green along with Caesars was “basically dead” because of community board opposition. Caesars recently replaced Hard Rock as the gaming entity in that proposal. State law requires environmental impact studies along with community support, and the latter is never going to happen because of local politics in midtown Manhattan, Pretlow said.
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Proposals to put a third casino in the Bronx, Staten Island, Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland and Putnam Counties are all unviable for a variety of reasons. There is a possibility that the state will issue two licenses by the end of 2023 and hold off on issuing a third. But that would require a bipartisan agreement, and those are hard to come by at both the local and national level.
One other New York City possibility is an effort by Mets owner Steve Cohen to build a casino in the parking areas near Citi Field in Queens, Pretlow said. But that would be opposed by Genting, which pays Nassau County (the Western of two counties that make up Long Island) $25 million as part of an earlier deal to keep that county casino-free. “and I do not know if that would fly with the locals in Willets Point,” Pretlow said.
Another idea being floated is for the third casino to be located near Coney Island in Brooklyn, site of the famous Nathan’s hot dog eating content every July 4.
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Currently, it is widely believed that MGM will get a full casino license for Empire City Casino, also known as Yonkers Raceway, and a second will go to Malaysia-based Genting Inc. to turn Aqueduct Racetrack (not operating as a so-called “racino” under the authority of the state lottery commission) would get the second.
“There are no destination casinos in the world other than the ones in Monaco, Macau, and Las Vegas. Every other casino is a casino of convenience,” Pretlow said.
One recent poll showed the race between Hochul and Zeldin to be a dead heat, and there is a possibility that New York will have its first Republican governor since George Pataki from 1995-2006. Hochul has strong support in Western New York, where she is an avid supporter of the Buffalo Bills, while Zeldin has been trying to make inroads in New York City and its surrounding suburbs, which historically have leaned heavily toward the Democratic Party.
Election Day is next Tuesday, and sports telecasts in New York have been jam-packed with political advertisements and sportsbook advertisements. A huge unknown, according to Pretlow, is the impact that a Zeldin election would have on the functionality of the legislature as it relates to sports gambling and the state wagering commission, which he cochairs along with State Sen. Joseph Addabbo from Queens.
A Republican administration would bring along Republican appointees to the administrative section of the commission, changing its operating dynamics and leaving New York gamblers at risk of having the sports gambling rules they have gotten used to since January (outlined in our New York sports wagering hub) amended.
“I have no idea what his attitude toward gambling, and the some members of the gaming commission would be replaced by people who have the same thinking as him,” Pretlow said, adding that he would expect that Rob Williams, who he described as “an apolitical Republican,” would be retained in his current role.
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If a new governor tried to force changes in the sports gambling law through the budgetary process, the only way the state legislature would be able to push back would be through rejecting the budget in its entirely.
“We can only say no to the whole budget, and then the state stops,” Pretlow said, adding that he would seek a meeting with Zeldin if he is elected governor in order to get an understanding of where he stands on issues related to gambling.
New York is averaging about $300 million per week in sports bets. But New Yorkers are unable to bet on some of the most popular markets, including futures betting on individual awards, such as the Heisman Trophy, the Cy Young Award, or NBA/NFL Most Valuable Player.
That has produced an infrastructure in which many New Yorkers maintain accounts in multiple states and cross state lines in order to make wagers only available in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Zeldin’s Web site does not address sports gambling, but calls for increasing the power input and participation of rank and file legislators.
If some of those legislators want to repeal legalized sports gambling, that could be on the table. Could this issue get even more complicated than it already is? Well, sports gambling is not as big of a ballot measure as it is in California. But there will be sports gambling implications no matter whether Hochul or Zeldin emerges as the winner.
The key to keeping everything copacetic is flexibility,” Pretlow said.
Must all three casino licenses be issued at the same time? Or is there a better way?
“It is like the sports gambling issue, in that all of the sportsbooks were supposed to have equal footing and come online at the same time, but that was not how it worked out. Bally’s took several months before they went live,” Pretlow said.
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