New Jersey reported record sports wagering volume for a second consecutive month in September ($749 million, +12% MoM), with operators retaining $45.1 million. By comparison, New York experienced a -38.5% YoY decline in sports betting revenue (with operators earning just $1.4 million). The Empire State’s four brick-and-mortar casinos didn’t reopen until Sept. 9, and its lack of online sports betting (OSB) explains the sizable differential.
Oppenheimer noted in an Oct. 16 update on DraftKings that New Jersey’s “strong OSB performance [could] potentially [accelerate] NY’s timeline to legalize mobile wagering.” Jed Kelly (executive director, equity research, Oppenheimer) explained that the optics of New Jersey (and Pennsylvania) taking in meaningful revenue at a time when New York’s deficit is climbing ($13.3 billion shortfall expected in 2021, $61 billion over the next four years) would increase public pressure on the State Assembly to advance mobile sports betting legislation. The pressure may not be needed, though. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow told PlayNY.com last week that he has a commitment from Assembly leadership to put forth a revenue bill, inclusive of OSB, following the upcoming Presidential election.
But for New York to pass the legislation, Andrew Cuomo—who has never embraced the idea—is going to have to get on board with it. New York State Senator (and the chairman of a committee on racing, gaming and wagering) Joseph Addabado Jr. told Gambling.com if the governor is willing to sign off, the state could have online sports betting live “by the Super Bowl or March Madness.”
Our Take: One practical way for OSB to become legalized in New York is through the standard legislative process. “You may recall the ‘How a Bill Becomes a Law’ video we all saw in grade school,” said Lloyd Danzig (founder/CEO, Sharp Alpha Advisors). At the state level, a sponsor proposes a bill, it passes through committee, gets voted on by the Senate and Assembly, and eventually ends up on the governor’s desk for passage or veto.” The bill supported by Addabado Jr. and Pretlow would permit online sports betting within the state as long as the servers and computers supporting OSB operators are on brick-and-mortar licensees’ property.
Addabado Jr. and Pretlow only included seven sports betting skins within their bill—one for each brick-and-mortar licensee (four upstate and three closer to New York City that will open in ’23)—in hopes of reducing opposition. “The current bill’s sponsors argue that, by authorizing only one skin per casino and requiring that all mobile bets are processed through computers and servers sitting physically on the premises of a licensed casino, they have circumvented any questions as to the constitutionality of the bill,” Danzig said. The problem is, even if the bill has Assembly support, Cuomo holds veto power and has maintained that the only way to legalize online sports betting within the state is to amend the constitution (in other words, the revenue bill won’t suffice). Should a constitutional amendment be required, “that would put [legalization] more in the 2023 realm” as it would need to pass in two consecutive sessions, Danzig said.
In addition to New Jersey posting record handles in both August and September, it’s possible COVID-induced revenue shortfalls and an increasing budget deficit could weigh on Cuomo and convince him to change his stance on OSB. Those in opposition argue that mobile sports betting is not a magic elixir, that the state is likely to generate only an additional $108 million in annual taxes—a small fraction of the state’s $177 billion deficit (and thus, there is little reason to pass legislation). But with legalization bound to have a positive impact on employment and New York gaming taxes disproportionately funding education (80%), one could certainly argue having OSB would benefit state residents.
Cuomo is currently awaiting a state-commissioned revenue study from Spectrum Gaming Group that Oppenheimer believes “could be a key reference for [the governor] to get behind mobile betting,” said Kelly. The results will give the governor something he could potentially point to to explain his changing views on mobile wagering. “There is some anticipation amongst New York legislators that [the study] could sway him,” the Oppenheimer analyst said.
Even if the study doesn’t change Cuomo’s stance—there is a school of thought amongst sports betting insiders that the governor still resents DraftKings and FanDuel for jamming him up with DFS in 2015-2016—it’s possible the results could still end up serving as a catalyst for legalization, “particularly since taxes derived from gaming revenues in New York predominantly support education,” Danzig said. “If [Addabado Jr. and Pretlow] can show exactly how many lunches and textbooks their bill could buy and how many teachers’ salaries it could pay, that could tug at peoples’ hearts and minds and sway public opinion,” particularly in a post-COVID world.
The Super Bowl is fast approaching, so it is fair to wonder if there is a realistic chance sports betting could be legalized by then. Danzig says, “If you have alignment between all of the political stakeholders and everyone is moving in lockstep with the goal of maximally benefiting New York residents and taxpayers, three months should be no problem. However, we have also seen states that fail to efficiently operationalize mobile sports betting due to a preoccupation with what many industry experts consider short-sighted details.” From a revenue standpoint, it would certainly make sense to be live in time for the biggest sporting event of the year. And from a technical standpoint, there is no reason the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel couldn’t be ready to flip the switch.
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