When New York online casino legislation didn’t go anywhere last year, legislative sponsors said the biggest reason was opposition from the New York Hotel and Gaming Trades Council.
In response, Sen. Joe Addabbo added a $25 million fund for casino workers to this year’s bill to alleviate any cannibalization concerns.
But the fund was not enough to gain the support of the AFL-CIO union. Bhav Tibrewal, political director for the Hotel Trades Council (HTC), explained to PlayUSA:
“It will again be true that labor concerns will be the biggest reason that iGaming doesn’t happen in New York this year.”
NY casino workers union not ready to negotiate on iGaming
Tibrewal is unapologetic about the union standing in the way of the people who want online casinos to come to New York, as it already has in neighboring New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
The HTC is concerned about jobs, not technological progress.
“At the end of the day, our organization has one job, and it’s to increase the standard of living in New York state through the creation and preservation of exceptionally good jobs in the gaming industry. When you consider it from that perspective, you understand it’s our job to be skeptical of a proposal like this where, no matter how you cut it, it is not a job creator.”
Addabbo points to a job creation component in the New York online casino bill with live dealers. And the legislation requires these to be union jobs.
But Tibrewal said it’s not just about protecting dealer jobs. Union officials are worried about iGaming’s impact on all the resort jobs attached to a casino. These include cocktail servers, food and beverage workers, cooks and hotel workers.
“For every dealer job, there are several other jobs created when you have a brick-and-mortar casino. There’s an entire ecosystem of labor, services and amenities that comes with a casino, and iGaming really completely decimates that ecosystem and changes the nature of what it means to gamble in New York state.”
Addabbo’s offer of a $25 million fund to supplement casino workers doesn’t change the union’s core objection to the proposal.
“The fund is putting bells and whistles on a job killer,” Tibrewal said. “We firmly believe that iGaming harms the best part about casino gaming in New York States, which is jobs. No matter how much state revenue iGaming creates, if it comes at the cost of hurting the prospects for jobs at casinos, in our minds it’s a no-brainer that it’s the wrong thing to do.”
Union doesn’t want iGaming to impact downstate casinos
Hotel Trades Council represents more than 5,000 gaming workers in New York today. But the union expects to add thousands more in the coming years with the addition of three downstate casinos.
Tibrewal explained why HTC wants New York to open the downstate casinos before further considering iGaming.
“We’re looking forward to very high quality new casinos being developed and operated downstate for one reason, because of the number of jobs and quality jobs to be created. I think altering what the casino market looks like in the middle of that RFA process would be misguided. While we oppose iGaming, we certainly are all the more opposed to it while we’re in the middle of this process. We think the focus should be on downstate casinos.”
The licensing process for the New York City casinos is underway but moving slowly. The next step is for the New York State Gaming Commission to answer a second round of questions. Once questions are answered, proposals will be due in 30 days. Applicants need approval from Community Advisory Committees created to gauge local support and obtain zoning approvals before the Gaming Facility Location Board will evaluate proposals.
Tibrewal said the union hopes to see a lot of progress by the end of this year. But the licensing process is expected to go into 2025, and possibly longer.
Gov. Kathy Hochul seems to have embraced the union’s argument that the state should complete downstate casinos before considering iGaming. She did not include online casino in her executive budget.
“I can’t think of any time in the history of New York City that there has been the potential for so many jobs of this quality in one fell swoop,” Tibrewal said. “We’re all in on that, not something that lets people gamble on their phones.”
Maryland study keys NY union opposition
As for what report concerns the union about the potential negative impact of online casino on the brick-and-mortar landscape, Tibrewal cited a recent study that The Innovation Group did in Maryland.
The study, presented to a Maryland House committee earlier this month, projects that legalizing iGaming would result in a 4-8% reduction in casino jobs.
“That report really is the main thing I would point to that gives us concern,” Tibrewal said. “Our concerns were present even before that report, but now it seems very clear there would be a negative impact.”
Tibrewal said the union also has had conversations with affiliated labor organizations representing casinos in other states and come away with a firm belief that iGaming would harm current casino jobs.
Tibrewal acknowledged that some reports from neighboring New Jersey paint a rosier picture for iGaming not cannibalizing and even helping fortify the brick-and-mortar casino market. However, he said the existing gaming situations in the states are very different.
“Atlantic City faced challenges for quite some time. In New York, there’s the promise of thousands of new casinos jobs downstate. In our minds, given what the New York hospitality market looks like and the volume of travelers and population of the area, those downstate casinos will be very, very successful facilities.”
What needs to change to gain union support for New York online casino
Tibrewal said HTC has heard the arguments made by Addabbo and others that online casino won’t impact jobs at brick-and-mortar casinos. That online casino is a new market entirely. But they would have to be fully convinced that is true before supporting any legislation.
“We’ve yet to be presented with any meaningful evidence this would not have a negative impact on jobs. Until somebody can prove to us that current jobs and the creation of future jobs won’t be impacted, we will be firm in our stance against iGaming.”
At this point, the union believes the cost of New York iGaming far outweighs the benefits for casino workers.
“Will iGaming mean no one bothers to come to those casinos because they’re all sitting at home or on the subway playing on their phones?” Tibrewal said. “No, of course not. But they may be a few points less successful and have fewer servers, fewer hotel workers than otherwise.”
With a projected billion dollars in annual revenue, New York online casino and iLottery will continue to be a topic as the state looks to fill increasing budget gaps in the coming years.
Tibrewal recently told Bonus.com that New York lawmakers are aware of the union’s opposition. That opposition likely will continue to hinder New York online casino passage.
“We’re not under any illusion that this issue is not going to come up in future years,” Tibrewal said. “The union for gaming workers in New York state will be fully engaged in those discussions when they come up.”