New York online poker and casino gaming will not be coming to the Empire State anytime soon.
Lawmakers in both chambers of the New York State Legislature released one-house budgets Tuesday that did not include two igaming bills submitted earlier this year — one to legalize online poker, the other online casino gaming.
Both measures are effectively dead for 2023. And one of the biggest proponents for igaming expansion in the state, Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), said he’s calling it quits on the issue for now — citing a lack of interest by Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul and other lawmakers, and vocal opposition from a powerful workers’ union.
“I’m going to stop talking about it,” Addabbo told Poker Industry PRO in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. “I’ll always stand at the ready, because you know igaming will be promoted in the state again. But like I said, for now, I’m not going to be the only one [to talk about igaming expansion].”
Bills Weren’t Included in Budget
Last month, Addabbo introduced S4856, which would have allowed qualified licensees — racinos, commercial casinos, and tribal casinos — one skin for online casino gaming.
The nine online sportsbooks that the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) picked for licenses in November 2021 would also be eligible for an online casino license under S4856. NYSGC was to accept bids for three additional licenses, bringing the total of possible licenses issued to 35.
But S4856 and another bill — A1380, which was introduced by Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon) in January and called for legalizing online poker — were not included in budget bills unveiled by the Assembly and the Senate this week.
Under the state constitution, an annual budget bill must be agreed to by April 1. Lawmakers are unlikely to consider igaming bills after that date and for the rest of the biennial session for 2023-2024.
Senator: iGaming Expansion Needs Support
Addabbo, who chairs the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering, says the lack of support is frustrating.
“The naysayers and everyone who’s been giving us issues about why not to do it — we’ve addressed them all,” he said. “There is not an issue that I have not heard of that I have not addressed.
“They say, 'Oh, it’s going to slow down the process for downstate casino licenses.’ No way. Those are two separate tracks, and the one that has the downstate licenses on it is moving forward. We’re not interfering with that at all.”
The Hotel and Gaming Trades Council (HTC), a powerful union for hotel and gaming workers in New York and northern New Jersey, opposed igaming expansion on fears that it would impact land-based casinos, despite recent reports, despite recent reports to the contrary.
Addabbo said the irony of HTC’s opposition is that S4856 would have required any live dealer studios be physically located within New York State. “We had language protecting workers by having the live dealers and their studios be in the state. We called for increasing and protecting the employees.”
Meanwhile, Addabbo figures the state is losing about one billion dollars for every year the state doesn’t expand igaming. He had also proposed using tax revenue from igaming to help fund the cash-strapped Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) — an issue that Hochul appeared receptive to.
“I can’t be the only one [pushing for expansion]. There has to be an appetite on the governor’s side, on my side, on the union’s side. There has to be an appetite. But I don’t see one, so I’m going to stop talking about it.”
Previous Efforts Have Also Failed
It’s not the first time legislation to legalize casino gaming and online poker in New York has fallen short.
Pretlow and other supporters of online poker have been trying to make the vertical a reality since 2013, across five biennial legislative sessions. Ten bills were introduced during that time frame — all of which called for taxing online poker at 15% and anointed NYSGC as regulator.
The ten previous bills, as well as A1380, called for classifying poker games like Omaha Hold 'em and Texas Hold 'em as games of skill rather than games of luck. Pretlow’s bill would have authorized NYSGC to issue 11 licenses for online poker.
Meanwhile, S4856 would have taxed online casino gaming at 30.5%. A bill introduced by Addabbo last year would have allowed licensees to run two skins for online casino.