New York budget talks enter OT, proposals include gambling measures

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Posted: April 3, 2022, 4:57 a.m.

Last update: April 3, 2022, 6:04 a.m.

Friday was supposed to be the deadline for New York to pass its fiscal year budget, but as was the case last year — and other years, too — the state won’t start the new year immediately with a spending plan. It also means that questions about potential expanded playing opportunities will remain unanswered until next week at the earliest.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at an event March 2 to promote her plan to make changes to the state’s Liquor Authority. Hochul said late last week that she was still working with legislative leaders on finalizing a budget that could include expanded games in New York. (Image: Flickr.com/GovKathyHochul)

Issues such as downstate casino licenses and additional sports betting licenses are unlikely to hold back New York’s budget. There’s likely a litany of issues yet to be resolved, ranging from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plans for bail reform to state funding for the new Buffalo Bills stadium. The latter calls for using money from the Seneca Nation of Indians Gaming Compact Settlement to pay most of the state’s share.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Hochul made it clear there was still work to be done on the budget. She said she was “committed to making sure” it reflected the state’s priorities and addressed its key concerns.

She also said she would continue to meet with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, in “good faith”.

“New Yorkers need to know that progress is being made and that we will take the time to reach an agreement that works for them and moves our state forward,” Hochul said.

So, with a budget deal unlikely to be in place until Monday at the earliest, let’s take a look at the top two gambling issues most likely to make it into the budget.

Downstate Casino Conversations

The most likely gaming item to be included in the final budget is the last three casino licenses in the state. These are slated to go to places downstate. For the uninitiated, that means New York; its northern suburbs in Orange, Rockland, and Westchester counties; and Long Island.

Some groups are pushing for two established gambling racinos — Empire City Casino in Yonkers and Resorts World New York City at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens — to get two of the full-fledged licenses. Empire City and Resorts World currently offer video lottery terminals, which operate differently from Las Vegas-style slot machines. They also only have electronic table games, unlike the live dealer table games currently available at the four upstate casinos.

In 2013, New York voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing commercial casinos. The initiative, however, was intended to give the four upstate casinos a seven-year head start before the upstate licenses were awarded. This initially made all three licenses available in 2023.

However, State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens, and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, have called for the licenses to be expedited by one year. Lawmakers who chair their chambers’ legislative committees on gaming have been pushing for this because of what COVID-19 has done to the state’s economy. The idea behind this is, firstly, that licensing fees can bring billions into state coffers next year, and secondly, casinos will help create thousands of jobs in two sectors particularly affected by the pandemic: construction and hospitality.

Last week, New York Mayor Eric Adams spoke out in favor of the city getting two of the three licenses. In a series of tweets on Friday afternoon, he said downstate casinos could create a minimum of 16,000 jobs, with most going to residents of the Big Apple.

The good jobs that come with a thriving tourism industry are a crucial part of our city’s comeback,” tweeted the freshman mayor. “With our hotels down 50% due to the pandemic, accelerating and expanding gaming options downstate will help kickstart NYC’s comeback.”

Hochul’s budget proposal included all three casino licenses. The same goes for the Senate proposal. While the Assembly budget proposal did not include casino licensing, Addabbo said Casino.org last week, Assembly members began talks with the Governor’s office and Senate leaders about including casino language in the budget.

More sports betting in the budget?

The other expanded gambling metric that could end up making the budget is another proposal from Addabbo-Pretlow to increase the number of mobile sports betting licenses.

Both chairmen of the gaming committee have expressed interest in allowing more operators to enter the state. The solicitation from last year’s budget led to the approval of nine operators (eight of them launched since the January 8 go-live date).

Budget proposals from both chambers plan to allow up to 16 operators, which would mean up to seven more could be added. The budget proposals ask new operators to pay the same tax rate as previously approved sports betting. This rate is 51%, but the state may seek to reduce the rate.

Addabbo said Casino.org he and other lawmakers are waiting to see what the financial analysis of sports betting is before moving forward.

“By increasing the number of operators and even perhaps changing the tax rate, we should only consider doing so if it makes fiscal sense for the state and to improve the product for the consumer in New York. “, said the senator. “If not, we shouldn’t be moving forward with this.”

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