By Tom Precious
NEWS ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF
ALBANY – The daily fantasy sports industry on Tuesday turned to two retired NFL quarterbacks – Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and Vinny Testaverde – to make a last-minute pitch to ensure the popular contests are legalized in New York.
Kelly and Testaverde spent an hour behind closed doors this morning with Senate Republicans, including photo opportunity time, before heading with their lobbying team to meet with Senate Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat.
“I think this is 2016. It’s not the 1990s. I think they need to get with the program and understand there’s more to it. There’s so many other states that do it,” Kelly said in an elevator interview on his way to meet with Klein. Kelly, who took the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls, said he is being paid an appearance fee by the fantasy sports industry for his time in Albany.
Earlier in the morning, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly racing and wagering committee, said he believes a bill is now going to be approved in both houses after he amended his previous legislation to match a pending Senate bill. The Legislature has to approve “same as” bills before legislation can be sent to the governor for his consideration.
But Pretlow said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suddenly jumped into the fantasy sports debate, one he has largely stayed out of since Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last year ordered DraftKings and FanDuel to cease operating in New York because of his belief that they violate the state’s constitution as illegal forms of gambling.
“There’s a lot of changes that he’s suggesting at the last minute,” Pretlow said of Cuomo. He declined to elaborate, but said the Assembly and Senate are planning – as of now, anyway – to pass the fantasy sports bills and then negotiate with Cuomo possible changes to the measure.
Asked why the deal is good from a public policy perspective, Pretlow said: “Because it will make three million New Yorkers happy.” That’s how many New Yorkers play fantasy sports, in some fashion, according to the industry.
A major caveat to all this is obvious: Albany is a town that runs on its own clock, and there is much time for anything to happen on this and other issues before lawmakers end their 2016 session on Thursday.
Pretlow also said he believes a push to legalize online poker wagering – with the state and existing and future casinos in the state sharing in the profits – is dead. The state’s racetrack-based casinos are trying to keep that measure alive, or to get a piece of the action with the fantasy sports legislation – an attempt that has been an uphill climb for weeks.