Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. is seen at a legislative meeting. he has grey hair and mustache. wearing a sharp pinstripe suit with a yellow paisley tie. Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. is hopeful that online poker & casino can pass next year. Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. is seen at a legislative meeting. he has grey hair and mustache. wearing a sharp pinstripe suit with a yellow paisley tie. Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. is hopeful that online poker & casino can pass next year.
NY State Senate

In my opinion, iGaming in New York is not a question of if, but when. It’s going to happen — just maybe not this year.While lawmakers in New York recently decided against adding legislation to the state budget that would have allowed online poker and casino gaming in NY, the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), was optimistic that the proposal could be revisited in 2023.

Addabbo said the odds improve next year when emergency funding from the federal government to support states during the pandemic either ends or is reduced. Attitudes toward expanding gaming could also change along the way, and some may have already done so, considering the Senate added a separate proposal to the budget that would expand the number of mobile sports betting licenses in NY to 16 by January 2024, up from the current nine.

In an exclusive interview with pokerfuse, Sen. Addabbo shared his thoughts on the future of online poker and casino gaming in New York.

Last month, you introduced a bill, S8412, that called for launching online poker and casino gaming in New York. That bill was not included in this year’s budget. What happened?

Well, remember, it took us two-and-a-half-years to do mobile sports betting in New York. We threw legislation out there for iGaming in hopes of setting a foundation to build upon, part of which was the success of mobile sports betting in New York. [S8412] came a little too late in the sense that budget negotiations had already started.

We’re laying the groundwork, knowing that it takes a little while for New York to embrace gaming issues. In my opinion, iGaming in New York is not a question of if, but when. It’s going to happen — just maybe not this year. Certainly, when the federal aid from Washington runs out and the state is looking for more revenue or educational funds next year, we will be ready with iGaming. It’s estimated that iGaming could bring about $475 million per year to New York.

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Some of the opposition to an expansion of gaming in New York came from those who wanted to wait to see how mobile sports betting panned out, but now the state could be adding more licenses. Could you explain the thinking there?

I could see where some would have a little apprehension and don’t want to expand gaming in New York so quickly, but New Yorkers are doing iGaming already — they’re doing it illegally or they’re going to another state.

I make the argument with iGaming, as I did with mobile sports betting, that if you really want to help someone with an addiction, you should safely regulate it in New York. Then, you can monitor their activity and you can help those that need help. Right now, you don’t know who they are so you can’t help them.

With mobile sports betting, during that first month in January, we broke the national record for handle at $1.6 billion. And we did that with only four active sportsbooks. We’re breaking records and doing phenomenally well with only eight active sportsbooks. But we know other states have more and this is an extremely competitive market that we’re in.

[Adding more sports betting licenses] shows that the legislature is not standing on the sideline saying “We did mobile sports betting, we’re done, it’s successful. Let’s just sit back and watch all the educational funds and the revenue roll in.” No, the legislature is doing their job by standing ready and asking “How can we make this a better product for New Yorkers? How can we make this even more successful?”

This is all a starting point for negotiations, it’s not a done deal. If the [Senate Finance Committee] tells me that expanding [mobile sports betting] at this point will mean a reduction in educational funds or revenue, then we don’t go forward. But if they say the potential, based on what we see, raises revenue and educational funds if we do increase the number of skins, then let’s do it.

That’s the discussion between the Assembly members, the Senate, and the governor’s people, but it’s a vision that my counterpart [Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon)] and I initially had of more skins. We’ve always thought that more skins means more competition, which is a better product for New Yorkers.

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Is Governor Kathy Hochul more receptive to the idea of expanding gaming in New York than her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo?

Yes, it’s such a breath of fresh air. Under the previous administration, I couldn’t talk about iGaming. I couldn’t even think about introducing anything like [S8412]. It was a non-starter. This administration is at least open to ideas, open to what are credible ways to methodically and safely expand gaming in New York.

I much appreciate the efforts of Governor Hochul. Her administration has been more willing than the previous administration to talk about these issues.I’m laying the groundwork for next year when we probably will not have, or can’t count on, the federal dollars and we need revenue. My hope is that iGaming will be at the ready to implement.

Do you think the expansion of sports betting improves the chances for iGaming and poker?

I think economics will dictate the success of advancing iGaming. Right now, there is no appetite for additional revenue and educational funds. We have federal funds [for the pandemic] used in our budget so there’s a surplus.

Last year, we had to use the pandemic and the $15 billion deficit that it left in our state budget to really drive home the need for mobile sports betting. [Cuomo] didn’t want to do it, but the money from Washington isn’t a birthday gift, we won’t get it every year, so we did mobile sports betting.

I’m laying the groundwork for next year when we probably will not have, or can’t count on, the federal dollars and we need revenue. My hope is that iGaming will be at the ready to implement.

Long-term, what do you think the chances are of New York joining an interstate compact such as the MSIGA for shared liquidity to support online poker?

We’ll see. Once you’re in that arena of iGaming, you can start to look at other products or areas. In the end, it has to make fiscal sense. We also need to protect the consumer. But we’re not there yet. I would really like to get it up and running in the state first and then see.