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Online sports betting takes hit from Cuomo

ALBANY – The door to legalizing online sports gambling in the coming budget closed a bit more firmly on Monday courtesy of fresh doubts by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo about such wagering.

The Cuomo administration has already declared that online sports wagering would be a violation of the state’s constitution. But with state fiscal talks underway and a heavy push on by the sports betting industry to legalize the wagering in New York, the issue still keeps popping up in some quarters of the Capitol.

In a radio interview Monday, Cuomo said the state already has legalized sports betting at four upstate casinos. The administration on Wednesday is set to issue regulations authorizing the gambling and kicking off a 60-day public comment period.

“I’m not a fan … of the new mobile sports betting," Cuomo said of permitting New Yorkers to gamble on college and pro sports via their smartphones or other electronic devices.

Cuomo said New Jersey, which legalized sports gambling last year, has gotten only about $13 million in state tax revenues from the endeavor.

In New York, where the state budget will be about $170 billion, that’s a “rounding error in our state," Cuomo told WAMC radio.

“So I don’t even think the economic benefit is there," he added.

[Related: Seneca Nation weighs sports betting for its Western New York casinos]

New Jersey, according to the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, brought in $14 million in tax revenue since the middle of last year when sports wagering began. The state imposes an 8.5 percent tax on land-based sports betting revenue and 13 percent on internet sports revenue.

Richard Azzopardi, a senior Cuomo adviser, told The Buffalo News in January that sports gambling is permitted in person at the commercial casinos authorized under a 2013 casino wagering expansion law. "Anything else is not permitted under the state constitution," he said at the time.

For online sports betting, the administration has argued that it will take a change in the state constitution, which requires passage by two successive sessions of the Legislature and then a statewide referendum. Under that scenario, the earliest such a sports wagering question could go before voters would be in 2021.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year lifted a federal ban on sports betting.

Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Westchester County Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s racing and wagering committee, said Cuomo is missing the tax benefits that will come to New York.

"I don’t think it has a shot in the budget and I’m not advocating that it be in the budget, but I do think the governor should take a closer look than he’s taking on this situation," Pretlow said.

The lawmaker, who has sponsored all the major gambling-related expansion efforts for years in the Assembly, said the lowest estimate he has seen is that $10 billion is being wagered illegally in New York annually on sports contests. He believes a sports betting program would be worth $100 million in yearly taxes to New York.

“I think the benefit to the State of New York totally outweighs any other consideration," Pretlow said.

Talks over the new state budget, due before the April 1 fiscal year start, are intensifying at the Capitol, with lawmakers looking for ways to maintain their spending levels beyond what Cuomo has proposed.

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