Joe Addabbo doesn’t want a no. He wants a number.
The New York state senator is trying to bring regulated online casino to the Empire State. He said he thinks New York could legalize iGaming this year with support from the influential Hotel and Gaming Trades Council (HTC).
He added a $25 million annual fund to SB 8185, his online casino legislation, to support casino workers and ease cannibalization concerns.
But the union balked and isn’t willing to discuss any compromise leading to iGaming at this time. A frustrated Addabbo told PlayUSA:
“If someone says nice try but $25 million doesn’t cut it, what does cut it? Is it $30 million? $40 million? It’s not enough to just say no. Give me an alternative. Give me a suggestion. What don’t you like about it? Tell me what you would want and let me see if it’s possible.”
Addabbo made some changes to New York online casino legislation SB 8185 last week and said his door is open to take suggestions for more changes.
“I just don’t like to take no for an answer,” Addabbo said. “Never did. I think it’s short-sighted to take no for an answer. If that was the way we did business in New York, we would never have advancement on anything.”
Why casino workers union won’t negotiate
PlayUSA recently spoke with Bhav Tibrewal, political director of HTC. Tibrewal described the fund as “putting bells and whistles on a job killer.”
He added that iGaming was a non-starter with the union while downstate casinos are in the works. And that it would take strong evidence that online casino won’t hurt jobs at brick-and-mortar casinos for the union to change its position.
Addabbo said there is no way to prove that until they have New York online casinos. But neighbors in New Jersey provide the closest comparison.
“New Jersey has had both casinos and iGaming for years now and they’ve seen growth in both iGaming and casino revenues. No casino operation has closed since they’ve had iGaming. During COVID when casinos in Jersey were shut down, their operations continued with iGaming. Our casinos and revenue and jobs here in New York suffered because we didn’t have that iGaming component.”
Addabbo said he feels like he and HTC are on the same side, they just have different viewpoints on the impact of New York online casino on existing labor.
“Their mission is to protect the current workforce and grow it, and I agree with both. I think iGaming does that. I’m not looking to cannibalize anything. Those are my constituents who work at Resorts World. I’m looking to better them, not hurt them. I don’t see iGaming as cannibalization.”
Resorts World NYC, a video lottery terminal facility with slot machines and electronic table games located in Addabbo’s district in Queens, is interested in one of the three full casino licenses available downstate.
Senator says New York can’t afford to wait on downstate casinos
Right now it’s looking like 2025 is the earliest that the New York State Gaming Commission will award these casino licenses. With required community approvals and zoning changes, the process could drag into 2026.
And that’s not counting construction time, which could make it 2027 or 2028 before new gaming and hospitality union jobs are realized at downstate casinos. Addabbo counters that online casino could bring new union jobs sooner with live dealers.
If it was just one year to wait on downstate casinos before considering iGaming, that would be one thing. If it were up to Addabbo, New York would have launched online sports betting by 2020 instead of 2023. Now that New York online sports betting has been a big success, he can’t see the state waiting until 2028 to have online casino. Other states are considering online casino legislation. See where they stand in our online casino bill tracker.
“Ever since the Supreme Court overturned PASPA, I thought New York should be at the forefront of doing sports betting, but we weren’t. New Jersey led the way for years and we lost billions of dollars. I could lament that lost revenue but I don’t because I’m happy with what we’re doing now.
“But now we have iGaming, something that is inevitable given technology today, and once again New York will be lagging behind like we lagged behind with mobile sports betting. People nationally think New York can be hugely successful in iGaming right out of the gate just like we were with mobile sports betting.”
Addabbo could see New York move forward without union approval
Addabbo said it’s clear that he and Asm. Gary Pretlow, the gaming committee chairs in their respective chambers, won’t be able to get Hotel Trades to negotiate on online casino. Only the governor can spark those conversations.
“That’s the governor’s job to get Hotel Trades to the table,” Addabbo said. “The governor has to drive the bus, bring everyone in and say how do we go down this path.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul did not include online casino in her executive budget and has shown no desire to lead those discussions this year.
Next year when the governor works on her executive budget, she’s likely to face a larger budget deficit than this year. Then the billion dollars in projected annual revenue online casino and iLottery could look more appealing.
“We may find ourselves in a situation where, out of necessity, Hotel Trades is saying no, no, no, but the state does it anyway,” Addabbo said. “It could be because of financial need, because another pandemic hits, or the fact that we’re surrounded by other states with iGaming and the lost money gets to the governor.”
Changes to New York online casino bill
Addabbo amended SB 8185 on Feb. 1, making five changes based on suggestions received since introducing the bill.
- Add video lottery game as an authorized interactive game and video lottery terminals as an authorized participant so that VLT facilities can participate.
- Shorten the required time for licensing, rules and regulations to be approved to 120 days from 180 days.
- Clarify that a qualifying participant may operate immediately upon the effective date.
- Allow the commission to authorize agreements to share interactive gaming player pools with other states, opening the door for New York to join other states in the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement creating liquidity for online poker.
- Adjust interactive lottery games to have an average pay out of no less than 40% and no greater than 60%.
Addabbo already intended that VLT facilities with racetracks could participate in online casino along with brick-and-mortar casinos and online sports betting companies operating in New York, but added language clearing up any doubt.
He said shortening the time frame for licensing was in response to seeing how long the commission has taken with downstate licenses.
“We’ve seen with downstate licenses what happens when you don’t put deadlines in the legislation,” Addabbo said. “There’s a delay. We don’t want that with iGaming.”
Addabbo said he expects more changes to the iGaming bill in time. He told Bonus.com his committee probably won’t “entertain iGaming” at a public hearing this month.
“This is the ‘A’ version,” Addabbo said. “My guess is there will be a ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D’ version.”
He would love it if one of those changes was to address concerns of the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council.