New York Finally Reaches Mobile Sports Betting Deal — Leading To A Chorus Of ‘Now What?’

Commercial casinos, tribal casinos, and horse racing are all trying to figure out where they fit in
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Even as some celebrate the apparent finalizing of a deal this week to bring mobile sports betting to New York, likely early in 2022, numerous aspects of the sports betting expansion plan have interested parties scratching their heads.

For more than two years, state lawmakers have advocated for sports betting kiosks at sites such as Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. Yet that option is nowhere to be found in the compromise worked out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Senate and Assembly leaders.

There was also support for a proposal that the four commercial casinos and the three tribes that operate casinos would each get one or two sports betting “skins” that would allow for experienced mobile betting operators to manage the wagering.

That’s not happening.

The commercial casinos will get no such guarantee. Instead, at best they can participate in a potentially hard-fought battle to be named one of two operators selected by the state gaming commission — or for one of at least four skins.

What it all means is perplexing even longtime gaming industry officials.

Horse racing left at the starting gate?

The scenarios for New York horse racing and for tribes that operate casinos also are vexing.

Until recent days, horse racing seemed, like the casinos, to have a chance to gain a seat at the mobile sports betting table.

Now?

To hear the New York Racing Association tell it, happy days are here again, with NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna declaring that the pending law “in no way precludes sports betting platforms from offering horse racing” and that “this provides NYRA with the opportunity to showcase our premier thoroughbred racing in the rollout of sports betting in New York. NYRA can now partner with entities seeking to offer sports betting in New York.”

That indeed could be a powerful boost to horse racing, in the same way that mobile betting apps that include a “single wallet” feature allowing gamblers to shift over to online casino games provides a convenience to customers — and likely more profits for operators.

But state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens, who, along with Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Yonkers, has led the way on mobile sports betting for the past three years, says “hold your horses.”

Addabbo told BloodHorse.com Wednesday that a linkage of a mobile sports betting app and betting on races online through that app is not part of the final budget.

“Going forward, I’m always open to look for expansion” of mobile sports betting, Addabbo said. “I’ve always said the best product is when it’s accessible to all.”

The bills don’t say that horse racing is part of the package — and they don’t say that it isn’t. What’s clearer is that earlier iterations that would allow for sports betting kiosks at the racetrack and at off-track betting facilities were nullified by removal of that language.

Meanwhile, when asked by gaming law attorney Daniel Wallach if the NYRA itself could be a bidder, Addabbo replied, “NYRA can be a bidder; I think it falls within the criteria.”

But uncertainty rules the day at the moment.

NY tribes will have their say

Then there are the tribes: the Seneca Nation of Indians (casinos in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca in Cattaraugus County); the St. Regis Mohawks (Hogansburg in Franklin County); and Oneida Indian Nation (Verona in Oneida County).

An upstate New York Assemblywoman, Marianne Buttenschon, wrote a letter to state leaders on Wednesday: “As we seek to complete the 2021-2022 New York State budget, we are requesting that any proposal to legalize mobile sports betting honor settlement agreements with the Oneida and Seneca Nations to ensure that all New York residents can participate in mobile sports betting.

“It is concerning that the proposal currently under consideration may result in residents of Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chenango, Cortland, Erie, Herkimer, Lewis, Madison, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, and Otsego being unable to participate in and benefit from mobile sports betting legalization.”

The Oneida tribe has been particularly vocal this week, releasing a statement on Tuesday that read, in part: “The Oneida Indian Nation offered a compromise on mobile sports betting that addressed all issues related to its exclusivity. This compromise was approved by the State Senate and Assembly, and supported by Indian and commercial casinos in New York. It appears that the State nevertheless is rejecting that compromise. We will review the final language, but we have serious legal doubts about this legislation and the impact it will have on Central New York.”

In response, Cuomo and an aide suggested it would all be worked out — but again, it’s not clear how.

The lack of clarity in the language of the bills sent to Cuomo’s desk, and the possibility of lawsuits by spurned hopefuls, means it is wise of Addabbo to make the February 2022 Super Bowl a target for mobile sports betting’s launch in New York.

While other states have gone from approval to the finish line in less time, none had the complicating factors that New York does.

Photo by Jeff Baumgart / Shutterstock
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