PlayUSA’s ‘On The Record:’ NY Gaming Executive On 2019 Buffalo Bills Season

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Sports betting — sports betting — sports betting, the number one gambling topic flooding statehouse across the country. Why? Because the US Supreme Court ruled in May 2018 that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), should no longer limit sports wagering to just Nevada. So now, like grub hungry fiends, every government in the country wants a piece of the pie.

But I think it’s time to shift the focus to something else. How about the mafia? How about the (Buffalo) BillsMafia? To clarify, the BillsMafia is a fanatic supergroup, a legion of the NFL Buffalo Bills supporters that flood the Twitter-verse every Sunday. But yes, I found a Bills fan in New York state that also happens to be the president and executive director of the New York Gaming Association (NYGA).

His name is Mike Kane and I’ve spoken with him about numerous gambling efforts dating back to the implementation of sports betting in the Empire State. I should ask for Kane’s forgiveness now — I’m not so sure he wanted to be outed as a Bills fan. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be outed as a supporter of Mitch Trubisky — the current quarterback for the Chicago Bears — so Mike if it was a secret, you have my sincerest apologies.

The BillsMafia are extreme zealots and have an unwavering amount of support for their hometown team. But before I get into that, I had to do my job and ask Kane about gambling in New York.

Talking New York gambling with Mike Kane

I called Kane early Wednesday. It was the first time we had spoken in almost six months. Ever since I relocated back to Chicago, I had shifted my focus to the Midwest. But you can never truly ignore the NY gambling market. A place like New York, so massive and full of politic turmoil, casinos, and tribal gaming, it’s only a matter of time before it sucks you back in.

Half expecting Kane to tell me something about sports betting, I was surprised when he said that really wasn’t the topic he was monitoring. It was refreshing so I had him break down what was on the NYGA’s radar to end the year.

So what has your organization’s attention?
Well, the delay in the gaming study that the (state) gaming commission was ready to award has been interesting. There was a board meeting on Monday and the expectation was that maybe they would announce who the vendor was going to be and they didn’t do it. So it was a little surprising. It will be interesting, it’s something that should have been done in — 2004 maybe.

So is sports betting the big news in NY? Is this proposed study suppose to determine how economically profitable mobile wagering would be?
That is one of the aspects but it’s not the most important.

What would you say is most important?
The singular most important aspect being viewed from the executive point of view is the other three available casino licenses. Should they be granted to existing facilities, should the timetable be moved up, should they be granted at all? These licenses, I think, are most important because it has the most financial impact. Sports betting — yes — I know they are looking for a number estimate if mobile became a reality but I still think there is a very strong sentiment amongst the executives that mobile wagering requires a constitutional amendment. Based on the conversations I have, I actually think they are probably right.

What is the role of the NYGA for the remainder of the year and into next year?
The rest of the year is pretty much going to be pulling together consense from our members as to what the legislative and administrative goals for the next legislative session are going to be. There is no question that, two of our larger members are very, very interested in gaining full casinos licenses and moving up the date of those licenses being granted. Another is a further reconsideration of existing tax rates.

There is a big election coming up. With lots of primaries coming up, how do you balance your organization’s goals with lawmakers’ schedules?
That’s a difficult question to answer. We strive to work closely with elected officials. There was a big change last year particularly in the Senate when it moved from Republican to Democrat. We and our members try and maintain a good relationship with everyone in all interests that can be helpful to the racing and gaming industry here in New York. If you have read about NY elections, particularly those in the metropolitan and downstate area, yeah, there will be primaries for just about anything.

And to summarize?
Those will be the big issues. One, the casino licensing process and the second, mobile wagering. With that, who will be allowed to do it? Just the casino licenses we have now? Or future gaming licenses? What about off-track betting (OTB) facilities or the NY Racing Association (NYRA), these are all things we will be monitoring into next year. You run into a lot of players.

Lawmakers return to Albany on Jan 8. It will be a short session this year according to Kane. Normally they don’t end until the third week of June but there are statewide primaries and now the session is scheduled to end on June 2. 

An unexpected outcome for the Buffalo Bills

“It was a fine season until Sunday. They played well but Sunday was kind of a reality check.”

– Mike Kane, president, and executive director, NYGA

Those are Kane’s words to describe the 31-13 beat down at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) last week. And he’s right. With the exception of the New England Patriots (8-0), Buffalo (5-2) has played teams with a combined record of 11 and 35.

This includes the wins against the NY Jets, NY Giants and Cincinnati Bengals who have a combined 3-20 record. One could say Buffalo’s next test comes on Nov. 28 when they travel to Texas and face the Dallas Cowboys (4-3) but you must be reminded the Cowboys lost to the Jets 24-22. I would argue their true test comes Dec. 8 when the red hot Baltimore Ravens (5-2) come to dance.

But this, this you already know. At least Kane does.

“(The Bills) have a really easy schedule,” Kane said. “The only other team with an easier schedule is New England. The Bills have improved and the coaching staff and management have committed to going in a certain direction which, as a long-time Bills fan, we all appreciate and support. But Jesus — that game Sunday was a tough one.”

BillsMafia can be the number one trending topic on Twitter any given Sunday (no pun intended). From their tailgates to their relentless love for the Bills and city of Buffalo, they truly are a much-needed fan base in the current NFL climate. One where Quarterbacks are treated with complete immunity, the Cleveland Browns were picked as Super Bowl contenders and an inhuman 42-year old machine is leading the Patriots to victory after victory.

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Where do the Bills go from here?

Buffalo hasn’t reached the playoff since 2017 when they lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 10-3 on wild card weekend. But this year, I have them as a sleeper playoff team. Prior to the 2017 campaign, you would have to go back to 1999 as the last year the Bills made the playoffs. Can you remember what you were doing back then? Josh Allen, the Bills starting QB, he was 3-years old.

“There has been a little dose of reality thrown into this season which is probably overdue,” Kane said. “But unquestionably they are a better team than last year. This week’s home game against the Redskins better be a bounce-back game and we will see where we go from there.”

I can tell you where Buffalo goes from there. They head to Cleveland, Ohio to face the 2-5 Browns.

“Some of the worst football games I have ever been exposed to have been Browns versus Bills,” Kane said. “Bad weather games — I mean one game, Derek Anderson completed 1 of 17 passes and the Browns still won.”

Despite the soft schedule, crazy fan-base, it’s refreshing to hear someone else describe their hometown team in such a truthful manner. I tend to do the same when I talk about Trubisky. Because only in Chicago can you be held as a savior one week and cast out to the wolves the next.

“Boy, I bet you would be thankful if (Trubisky) never took another snap,” Kane jokingly said.

Yes Mike, I would be very, very thankful, I replied.

Nicholaus Garcia

About

Nick has had stints in Chicago, writing about local politics, and in Washington, D.C., covering the expanding gambling industry. Now back in Chicago, he continues to write about the emerging sports betting market with a focus on the Midwest. Originally from West Texas, he graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

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