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As sports betting takes off across the United States, New York lags behind
6th February, 05:35Will Scott stepped into his gray Jeep Grand Cherokee and embarked on a 30-minute drive from Syracuse University to Yellow Brick Road Casino. Even after the Supreme Court's decision in June 2018 that legalized sports betting, making the one-hour, round-trip drive is the only legal way for Scott to gamble.
It was Dec. 9, and Scott, a junior at Syracuse, eventually walked to the counter and collected his winnings from previous bets. But when he tried to wager on Duquesne men's basketball -- favored by 11.5 points against Columbia that night -- he was informed that Columbia, Syracuse and other New York schools are off-limits. Neighboring New Jersey also doesn't allow this, yet Pennsylvanians are able to bet on any local collegiate teams.
Scott had driven 30 minutes and couldn't place what would have been a winning bet, as Duquesne won by 36.
Bans on intra-state bets aren't the only way New York has fallen behind in sports gambling. While bettors like Scott can get instant cash when they win at brick-and-mortar casinos, they wouldn't have to leave their homes to legally place bets in other states. New York's sports gamblers, politicians and casino operators alike are clamoring for the legalization of mobile sports gambling as the state's revenues pale compared to its initial expectations and those of neighboring states.
"I've really taken advantage of Yellow Brick Road Casino, but I only make a trip when I'm feeling super confident," Scott said. "It would be nice if New York would allow mobile sports betting."
A bill to allow mobile sports betting passed the New York state senate in 2019 but never made it to the floor of the assembly or Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk. When Gov. Cuomo produced the first draft of his 2020 budget on Jan. 21, there was no revenue included from sports betting. Despite its passage in the senate, the bill's biggest supporters are stuck waiting.
"Our governor has apprehension, the speaker of the assembly has apprehension about gambling," Sen. Joe Addabbo said. "To me, it's a no-brainer. We're already behind the 8-ball when we should have been out in front as soon as the Supreme Court said it was legal."
Gov. Cuomo called new forms of gambling "irresponsible" in his Jan. 21 State of the State address, citing the lack of revenue generated and dangers of betting from a phone.
For decades, sports betting was only legal in Nevada. In June 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the law that prohibited wagering outside of Nevada. Since then, 19 states have legalized sports wagering, most recently Michigan in December.
Delaware and New Jersey began taking bets within weeks of the overturned decision, and Pennsylvania began taking bets by the end of 2018. New Jersey's revenues and total amount in bets taken now rivals that of Nevada on a monthly basis, according to LegalSportsReport.com.
In New York, Rivers Casino sportsbook in Schenectady opened on July 17 and took New York's first legal sports bet. Turning Stone opened 14 days later on Aug. 1, and the state was expected to benefit economically like its neighbors from the United States' new darling -- legal sports betting.
Instead, New York had a reported total sports betting revenue of $7 million as of the end of 2019, per legalsportsreport.com. That figure doesn't include Oneida Indian Nation revenues, which the state doesn't take any sports betting money from, Justin Arnett, director of sports book operations at Turning Stone, said. Still, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- both states with legal mobile betting -- have raked in $363,995,543 and $96,789,410 respectively.
One lack of mobile betting consequence is that possible revenue for New York goes to neighboring states. Because satellites are used to track the location of the phones placing bets, bettors can simply travel across the state border, place their wagers and travel back. By car or train, New Yorkers haven't been stopped from betting, Addabbo said.
"My constituents in downstate New York are not driving two hours to go to a casino," Addabbo said. "They are going 20 minutes into New Jersey."
Addabbo said that at a public hearing in May, a FanDuel executive said that 25% of New Jersey's gained revenue in a given month -- about $10 million of the state's $40 million profit in November -- came from New Yorkers. Meanwhile, the Empire State earned just $2.4 million in the same month.
Still, with the legalization of sports betting, the way fans and the media interact with sports is changing. Broadcasters can now talk freely about their picks, and there's never been more public information available on topics that once seemed taboo.
ESPN, FOX Sports and NBC Sports all have daily shows dedicated to sports betting. The Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSiN) is the nation's first internet-oriented, sports betting television network. The Action Network, an online website dedicated solely to sports betting, provides a place for users to track bets and read analysis from experts. Eli Hershkovich, a DePaul journalism graduate in 2016, writes for the site and now hosts "You Better You Bet," a nightly sports betting talk show on Radio.com.
"I think you're going to see a lot of sports betting networks," Hershkovich said. "Various media companies will want to have their own place. It's going to boom, you're going to have an audience reach, similar to the fantasy football craze, but every single sport."
Hershkovich, who now lives in Philadelphia, can place bets anywhere, anytime by pulling out his laptop or phone and using FanDuel.
As the expansion of sports betting has drastically altered the way sports are covered by the media and consumed by the public, New York's residents aren't afforded the same opportunities despite the initial expectation that it would be one of the first states to go all-in.
"It's unbelievable, you turn on ESPN News now and it's basically ESPN bets," Scott said.
The calls for New York to legalize online betting come from across the state. Residents, sportsbook directors and some politicians have fought for the expansion of sports betting, yet the path to mobile betting appears blocked for now.
Arnett said he, along with the Oneida Nation, supports efforts to legalize online betting. Whether or not the state moves forward on it -- initial signs from Gov. Cuomo indicate they won't in 2020 -- sportsbooks are preparing for it as new states continue to legalize sports betting across the United States.