Big gamble? As mobile sports betting launches, New York looks to award new casino licenses

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s fiscal 2023 budget calls for state to issue the three remaining casino licenses the state has available.

Updated: January 23, 2022 - 10:37pm

A year after passing a major expansion in gaming, New York appears set to do it again.

The fiscal year 2023 budget Gov. Kathy Hochul released has proposed calls for the state to issue the three remaining casino licenses the state has available.

Those licenses were supposed to be awarded in the 2023 calendar year. However, lawmakers have called for the process to be expedited to help with the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Queens, has estimated the licenses alone could generate at least $1.5 billion in revenue for the state’s coffers. It also could exceed $2 billion as gaming companies would seek to build full-fledged Las Vegas-style resorts in the nation’s largest metropolitan area.

“You want to realize that this [upcoming] fiscal year,” Addabbo, who chairs the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, told The Center Square. “I’m going to guess we have entities out there that are willing to pay the upfront license fees, knowing that it may take three to four years to find a site and build a brick and mortar site.”

The new licenses would likely be awarded to casino projects in downstate New York, which would lead to new construction and hospitality jobs. The new opportunities in the hospitality sector would be especially welcomed. State Budget Director Robert Mujica noted that industry has seen its workforce drop by 30% since the start of the pandemic.

The New York City area is home to three casinos. MGM Resorts International operates the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway just north of New York City. Resorts World New York City is located at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. In addition, the Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp. owns Jake’s 58 in Islandia on Long Island.

However, those three venues can only offer video lottery terminals and electronic table games. A casino license would allow them to offer Vegas-style slot machines and live-dealer table games.

Both Addabbo and Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee Chair Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, have supported proposals that would give Empire City and Resorts World preference to get full casino licenses. They have cited the presence they already have in the community.

“If you’re looking for speed to market, that’s possible,” Addabbo said. “The idea here is it would be beneficial to the state in terms of revenue, in terms of educational funds, in terms of jobs, that we would look at a process that does something this year.”

In a statement, Resorts World said it would act quickly if it indeed received a license.

“If granted a full casino license, we are uniquely positioned to immediately elevate our support for the state in a number of significant ways,” the company said. “On day one, we’ll be able to hire and train hundreds of new union members, generate additional revenue for public schools, and drive economic activity for local small businesses and the Queens community.”

If lawmakers include the casino initiative in the budget, the state’s Gaming Commission would manage the licensing award process.

Last year, lawmakers included mobile sports betting in the budget. The first operators launched their apps this month, and according to data from the state and a technology vendor for the sportsbooks, wagering has gone as expected.

Hochul’s budget brief noted that the apps took $150 million in bets the first weekend of action. Addabbo noted that the state’s tax revenue from mobile betting exceeded in that weekend what the upstate retail sportsbooks generated in their first two years of operation.

New York taxes mobile sports betting revenues at 51%. Officials expect within a couple of years to generate more than $500 million in tax revenue annually from the nine sportsbooks that will be available in the state.

With the largest population and economy of any state currently offering mobile sports betting, New York is expected to quickly become the market leader in terms of handle and revenue.

"We expect that our revenues will meet our targets, both this year (and) next year, if not exceed them,” Mujica told reporters Tuesday. “I think we are now number one in the nation in that regard.”

According to GeoComply, a technology company that provides geolocation and cybersecurity services to mobile sports operators, 878,000 New Yorkers created 1.2 million accounts with the five sportsbooks that have launched in the state in the 10 days after the official Jan. 8 start.

Nearly 88% of those who have set up accounts are newcomers who have not created accounts in other states where sports betting is regulated.

“The data tell us that New Yorkers are dumping illegal sportsbooks for the new legal options, and operators are also excelling at attracting first-time bettors,” said Lindsay Slader, GeoComply’s managing director of gaming, in a statement.