New gambling options get fresh look in Albany

ALBANY — New York has casinos, racetracks, video-lottery racinos, off track betting parlors, bingo halls and a long list of lottery games.

But one of the fastest growing segments of the gaming industry — mobile sports betting — was nowhere to be found in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed state budget, though promoters of the activity say it would bring the state tens of millions of dollars in new revenue at a time when the treasury is strapped for cash.

Cuomo and lawmakers have confined sports betting to lounges within casinos, though the budget would expand the activity to anywhere on a casino premises.

Meanwhile, the mobile sports betting market has been quickly gaining velocity in other states that allow it. In other words, New York state is getting no piece of the jackpot.

However, mobile betting would be allowed in New York under legislation filed at the state Capitol by two veteran lawmakers, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Westchester, and Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens.

Pretlow said in an interview that Cuomo has questioned the constitutionality of allowing mobile sports betting in the state.

"I don't believe there are any constitutional issues with it at all," Pretlow said. He said the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2013 opened the door for lawmakers to decide whether New Yorkers should be able to bet on sporting contests from their phones or other devices.

The assemblyman said he's not particularly concerned with the possibility of legal skirmishes if the state moves ahead with mobile betting. "If we say something is legal, then it's legal, until proven otherwise," he said. "If there is a court challenge, there is a court challenge. It's ultimately up to the Court of Appeals (the highest court in New York), to make a final decision."

The New York legislation would have mobile sports betting affiliated with the existing tribal and non-Indian casinos. Pretlow said he is advocating for the proposal to be expanded to include the state's regional off-track betting corporations as well as Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium as affiliates.

"Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium have indicated they want to be affiliates that have betting kiosks at their facilities," Pretlow said.

More potential gaming revenue looms from the fact that a total of seven casinos were authorized in 2013, but only four licenses, all upstate, have been issued. The authorization for the other three is set to expire in 2023, a factor in a renewed push to build a major casino in the five boroughs of New York City, the nation's largest city.

Pretlow said two major casino companies, MGM and Genting, "have offered $500 million each (to the state) if we are willing to speed up the process for the downstate casinos." To get things on track, the two companies have also offered to help the non-Indian upstate casinos with their debt and licensing fees, he noted.

"Two times $500 million is $1 billion in my book," Pretlow said. "We could use an extra $1 billion in the face of a $6 billion budget deficit."

It's possible that the mobile sports betting debate and the issue of more casinos will have to wait until after a state budget is enacted, a feat with a target date of March 31. That would give lawmakers plenty of time to mull the issue, and perhaps get Cuomo on board, before the session comes to a halt in June.

Given the activity on the gaming front, the push for legal marijuana, an effort by progressives to raise taxes on the wealthy, more gun control legislation, and major battles looming over health care funding, it should be a busy and lucrative session for statehouse lobbyists.