After enjoying the convenience of mobile sports betting, some bettors wonder why New York online casinos can’t be legal, too.
Bettors in other states have asked the same question. In many states, online casino legislation follows on the heels of online sports betting legislation.
For example, Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker signed sports betting into law in June 2019. Illinois sports betting went live the following year. In 2021, the Illinois House and Senate introduced different versions of the state’s internet gaming bill, which would legalize online casinos.
Indiana’s legal sports betting industry went live in September 2019. In January 2022, representatives read HB 1337 and HB 1356 for the first time on the house floor. Both bills would legalize online casinos in Indiana.
Iowa legalized sports betting in 2019 and introduced an online casino bill in February 2022.
This doesn’t happen in every state, but it does indicate that bettors and lawmakers seem to become more comfortable with the idea of online casinos after seeing online sports betting revenue and responsible gaming protections in action.
However, New York’s legislative path to online casinos is trickier than other states. There’s one thorny political issue New York will have to tackle before touching online casinos — a downstate retail casino.
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A Retail Casino In New York City
New York has several retail casinos upstate, meaning north of New York City. However, the population of New York City alone is almost the same as the population of all of New Jersey. It’s a tightly packed area full of wealthy bettors and tourists. So, it’s an attractive place to build a retail casino.
“I’m not saying in the middle of Manhattan, but whether it’s Genting at Queens, whether it’s MGM or something at Yonkers, I think that’s really what the players are looking at in New York right now,” Nick Antenucci, Senior Council at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron said. “That will be the facility that really puts pressure on neighboring states like Connecticut and New Jersey and would really draw the destination into people.”
Although Manhattan may seem like the most attractive borough for a downstate casino, political opposition to a casino there is fierce.
“It’s a borough that doesn’t need the economic development [or] additional tourism that the other boroughs would need,” Antenucci said.
With a potential goldmine at their fingertips, New York lawmakers will probably resolve the downstate casino issue before legalizing online casinos.
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Upstate Casinos Versus Online Casinos
Even though an online casino bill could expand a retail casino’s reach statewide, upstate casinos would likely oppose an online casino bill if lawmakers introduced it.
“New York does things that kind of protect the interests,” Antenucci said. “Upstate [casinos were] always worried about competition from a downstate casino. That’s why you had these regions wake up, let the upstate [casinos] get open first, then discuss [a] downstate casino.”
Upstate casinos would not only lose New Yorkers who commuted from the city to those casinos. They could also lose tourists to a grand casino in New York City. So, upstate casinos would probably need additional perks to support online casino legislation.
“If it’s [online casino legislation] there for them [upstate casinos] to take advantage of, they’ll probably welcome it with open arms,” Antenucci said. “If it’s a straight online casino bill with competition, everybody has the same rights going forward, my instinct is they would vehemently oppose that without having some other sort of relief their way.”
Before lawmakers touch that issue, the downstate casino question must be resolved first. But there’s one way that online casinos could leapfrog the downstate casino issue.
“If New Jersey or Massachusetts or Connecticut were to put in [an online casino] bill and gain traction, then it’s a different conversation,” Antenucci said. “Then New York will race to get on board.”