New York’s igaming supporters are currently in a state of whiplash. Just under two weeks ago, State Senator Joseph Addabbo introduced Senate Bill S8185, which would legalise igaming in the Empire State with one key addition – ilottery. This marked Addabbo’s latest attempt to bring igaming to the foray, after S4856 petered out last year.
But days later, New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, decided not to include igaming in the state’s $232.7bn (£183.73bn/€214.70bn) budget for 2025, throwing cold water over the whole affair.
This is not uncommon in the US, where states dedicate years to advocating for a specific type of betting to be introduced. Just a quick glance at California’s legislative sports betting record will tell you that. So what’s the big deal about getting igaming to New York?
According to Howard Glaser, head of government affairs and legislative counsel at Light & Wonder, New York has the potential to become one of the most prolific igaming states in the country.
“If New York state adopted igaming, that market would be one of the biggest gaming markets in the world, period,” he says. “This is a state with 20 million people, 14 million adults, and it’s really just a robust environment for gaming.”
Success across the terrain
Even more convincingly, other states have modelled the introduction of igaming with great success for revenue.
“You have models in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan which are just extraordinarily successful,” Glaser explains. “In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, they’re running at $1.5bn, $1.7bn over the last 12 months each, with the associated tax revenue. Michigan is close to that level as well.
“There really isn’t any question about whether the model can be successful.”
It’s essentially a sure thing, which should be music to a lawmaker’s ears. So why hasn’t it stuck in the legislature thus far? The issue lies in straightening out the igaming issue politically, according to Glaser. “The challenge is solving for the politics in the US, both within the industry and some external factors as well,” he notes.
“This bill has been introduced; it’s the second year in a row. A few changes were involved in it – not too extensive changes. It’s really the beginning point for this conversation; it’s an attempt to keep the momentum alive to get another significant US state in play.”
What can Senate Bill S8185 offer New York?
Addabbo describes it as just that: a starting point for the igaming conversation.
“It’s a starting point for what I hope to be negotiations during the budget process here in New York for igaming and ilottery,” he says. “It sets up the parameters which I envision and hopefully my counterpart in the other house, the assembly, will.”
The bill’s highlights include a 30.5% tax rate. It also proposes a $25m fund to protect current jobs in existing casinos and an $11m fund for problem gaming programmes. And of course, ilottery.
“This new bill is improved from the bill introduced last year,” he explains. “This bill does include ilottery this time and this bill does include again a $25m fund to protect jobs. This is because we do not want igaming to cannibalise any of our existing brick and mortar casino jobs.”
Generally, the bill has been well received – or at least, the state senator hasn’t yet encountered an unfixable problem.
“We have those who are advocating and they love the idea of igaming and ilottery in New York and there are those who have concerns and I’ve heard many concerns,” he admits. “And there’s no concern yet that I have heard that can’t be overcome or can’t be addressed legislatively with the bill or with a variation of the bill.”
Governor Hochul’s budget throws a curveball
The absence of igaming in the 2025 New York budget, however, naturally presents a challenge. But this wasn’t a shock for Glaser.
“This is the game they play. In New York in particular, but in most US states, the governor will propose a budget which is below the level of spending that the lawmakers would like.”
Then the pressure is passed on to legislators. If they want to spend more money, they’ll have to find it first.
Naturally, Addabbo would have preferred igaming to be in the budget – and he’s not prepared to back down just yet. His tactic is to keep an eye on the executive budget.
“[The executive budget] tells us what she [Hochul] wants to do… what direction she wants our state going. But as for how we get there, how we pay for these things, that’s what the months of January February and March are for, for the budget negotiations.
“I’ll still remain optimistic that we can have a discussion on it during the budget process.”
What lies ahead for igaming in New York?
So it’s safe to say New York’s igaming dream is still alive and well. As Glaser says, this is just the first step in the process.
“We’re just at the very first inning of the process; the governor’s just kicking it off,” he explains. “I have no doubt that if the legislature put it in their versions of the budget, the governor would sign off on that.”
The biggest stumbling block, he continues, is the state’s labour unions. One unique aspect of Addabbo’s bill is that, in order to qualify for an interactive gaming licence, those operating a live dealer game must agree to a labour deal with a union.
“The challenge though – as it is in other places as well, all the states have unique challenges – New York is a big labour union state,” says Glaser. “The land-based casinos are all unionised. Those unions are concerned about the impact on their members in land-based casinos.”
Work must be done to convince land-based venues that igaming will help, not hurt, the casino market in the state. “The entertainment marketplace is largely digital, and if the casinos don’t have a digital component, they’re not going to be able to see the kind of growth they’ll need, either at the land-based level or the igaming level without it.”
For Addabbo, New York needs a sure thing and this is exactly what igaming and ilottery will provide.
“I remain optimistic, only because our New York State Comptroller – who looks at our finances – tells us we have a bad fiscal situation this year and it only gets worse 2025-2026,” he explains. “So you do need that sustainable revenue. Not these one-shot gimmicks, but sustainable revenue going forward. And that’s igaming and ilottery.”
New York’s igaming journey has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel and a long drop down to the end.