What’s on the state Legislature’s 2022 gambling agenda?

In a Q&A, Assembly Member J. Gary Pretlow discusses mobile sports betting and new downstate casinos.

New York bettors will soon be able to make online sports bets without having to leave the state.

New York bettors will soon be able to make online sports bets without having to leave the state. Tino Bandito/Shutterstock

New York bettors will soon be able to make online sports bets without having to leave the state. So you won’t need to bike over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey to place your bets. In November, the state Gaming Commission approved the licenses for nine online sports betting operators, and a final tax rate of 51% on their profits. Online betting is expected to start running before the Super Bowl on Feb. 13.

In October, Assembly Member J. Gary Pretlow, chair of the Committee on Racing and Wagering, called for the state to grant licenses to every company that applied for an online sports betting license, but that didn’t happen as a few companies were left out. 

City & State spoke with the Assembly member about his 2022 legislative goals on sports betting and what three new downstate casinos could mean for the region. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve been a big force behind mobile sports betting. Could you walk me through that legislation and what its approval now means?

The legislation that was originally proposed or the legislation that the governor forced on us?

Both. How do you think that might change at all, under Gov. Kathy Hochul?

(Gov. Andrew Cuomo) took the New Hampshire model, which is a very high tax model, but that has its own downfalls. Some of those are going to be that the operators aren’t going to have very much excess cash to offer incentives, free play, things of that nature. There’s not going to be enough money there. The plan that we ultimately adopted has been a failure in New Hampshire and several other states because there’s just no money there. My fear is that people that participate in sports betting, the odds are different in New Jersey and New York. (If) you get better odds in New Jersey, people are going to continue to go to New Jersey, and I don’t blame them. And there’s going to have to be some kind of give. Because the operators in New York, they’ll be paying $50 million for this, the right to do this, (and they) have to make their money back some way. And I just personally don’t believe that it’s going to be successful the way it’s set up.

So it sounds like there would be some undoing of the contracts that you mentioned if new legislation came in to approach it differently?

Yes. I’m going to introduce legislation when we get back in January that entities that have contracts with the state and propose a tax rate can’t come back a year later and say we’re not making any money, change our deal. That’s what happened with the casinos. The casinos that started four years ago all bid against each other and they bid up high taxes. Then three years later, they come back and say, “We’re losing money, we get a lower tax rate.” The former governor approved that, which I think was detrimental to the state of New York.

You’ve also been involved in expanding the number of casinos in New York. Now that the four commercial casinos are complete, we can now concentrate on opening three casinos in the New York City region. Is that the way the plan was?

Yes. There was supposed to be a seven-year wait before the additional three licenses were issued after the first four licenses were issued upstate, giving them time to get started. There’s a push now, and I’m the sponsor of the legislation to do so, to accelerate that and have the three licenses for downstate (sooner).

Where are they going to build it in Manhattan?

Nowhere. I think all of the city legislators are opposed to having a full-fledged casino in the borough of Manhattan. So that’s really off the table, as is Brooklyn.

Getting back to Manhattan, why so much opposition to a full-fledged casino?

You’d have to ask the Manhattan legislators that. I just don’t believe that the individuals that represent Manhattan would want a casino in Manhattan. There have been several proposals. I’ve had proposals to build a casino at Herald Square, Times Square and on Fifth Avenue.

Can you talk about how these new casinos will be inclusive, equitable and what they would do for the local economy?

I just did a press conference at Yonkers Raceway. MGM is pushing to have downstate licenses issued quickly. They’re looking at a minimum of 10,000 jobs for the area. Anywhere where there is a full-fledged casino at a basic hotel, we’re looking at thousands of jobs. The economic benefits are great. That’s always in the agreements that we make, that they have to be inclusive and representative of the communities that they’re in.

What are the obstacles that you see with opening these downstate casinos?

I don’t see any obstacles. No community group has come out against them. I have had community groups come out in favor of them. I represent Yonkers. So people from Yonkers, in the neighborhood, are asking to do this. They want a full-fledged casino there because they know that there are jobs that are going to be available.

How have the progressives reacted to using casino gambling to provide economic development and jobs?

I haven’t heard anything from them. If at all, they’re bored of all the other issues. I don’t know whether they’d be opposed to it or not.