The battle over legalizing mobile sports betting wages on in New York

The Big Apple doesn’t have mobile sports betting yet, and it may be several years before the state will be able to offer mobile sportsbook apps to New Yorkers.

The New York fiscal budget for 2019 was approved last week but mobile sports betting for iPhone and Android were not included in it as a provision.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration have frequently questioned whether mobile sports betting could bring in a substantial amount of tax revenue for the state, and NY Budget Director Robert Mujica even went as far to say he believes it would require a constitutional amendment so it could even be included in the state’s fiscal budget.

“If we want to expand it beyond the land-based casinos, including online, you need a constitutional amendment,” said Mujica.

NY state senator Joseph Addabbo of Queens has adamantly expressed he doesn’t believe that mobile sports betting isn’t allowed under the state constitution and even said the Cuomo administration had relaxed its stance in a meeting recently.

“They were embracing the constitutionality,” Addabbo said. “The only hurdle I could not clear was that the governor was looking for the Assembly to be as enthusiastic as I was about sports betting and they were not.”

However, after Addabbo made those comments publicly, Jason Conwall, a spokesperson for the Cuomo administration, disputed the claim and said the administration’s position has not changed.

“We have constitutional concerns on this issue that we have raised for nearly a year,” Conwall said. “Our position remains the same.”

The question of whether legal mobile sports betting is unconstitutional comes from the state constitution, which only allows bets to made inside four specific casinos in New York.

Albany Law School professor Bennett Liebman said that if the issue of mobile sports betting unconstitutional is not resolved before the NY Assembly passes a bill, then it could open the door to legal challenges from tribal casinos and major professional sports leagues.

A constitutional amendment would be the ideal solution, but time is of the essence. In New York, any amendment to the state constitution requires it to be approved by two consecutive legislative sessions and it must be put on the ballot and passed via voter referendum.

If lawmakers would have passed the amendment in 2018, and again in 2019, then it could have been put on the ballot for the 2020 general election. However, because the Assembly has still not passed the amendment, the issue of mobile sports betting being unconstitutional will not be fully resolved until at least 2021.

“They’ve put it back another few years,” Liebman said. “I have no idea what they were thinking.”

As far as why Addabbo is pushing hard for mobile sports betting to be available to all New Yorkers, he said you just need to look across the Hudson River to see its success.

“Well, 78 percent of the handle in New Jersey is mobile. And my constituents in Queens are complaining that, in order to bet, they have to get in their cars and cross the border,” said Addabbo. “The state is losing money to New Jersey legally and then there’s an estimated $9 billion a year in illegal bets happening in New York.”

But all hope is not lost for mobile sports betting in New York. Addabbo said both house and senate committees are meeting from April to June, so the Assembly will have until June to pass a bill and then have it signed by Governor Cuomo. If it doesn’t happen by June, then lawmakers will have to start the whole process over in January.

When asked about the chances of having a bill on mobile sports betting passed and signed in 2019 despite the state constitution not being amended to prevent legal challenges, Addabbo said there’s a good — but not great chance — that New York will have state-licensed mobile sportsbooks before the end of the year.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “So I think we’ll say 60-40 chance of getting it done.”