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Sports betting by smartphone? It could be coming soon to New York

ALBANY – State legislation newly tweaked by its sponsors would specifically authorize the Seneca Nation and two other tribes in New York with casinos to offer mobile sports betting to consumers anywhere within the borders of the state.

The bill would mean a bettor in Buffalo or anywhere else in New York could make bets on pro and college sports from their smartphone, laptop or other electronic devices and have them be placed through a Seneca-run online wagering platform.

Under the current sports betting plans by the Cuomo administration, a sports gambler from Buffalo would – when and if currently proposed regulations are finalized sometime this year – have to travel to place a bet perhaps as far as to a commercial casino that is located in Seneca County between Rochester and Syracuse.

The Seneca Nation has been seemingly underwhelmed by the state’s plan to let four commercial casinos offer sports betting solely through in-person wagers at the facilities. By extension, per the terms of existing compacts, the three tribes in New York with casinos would also be permitted to offer such in-person sports betting.

But the new plan pushed by legislators would open up the Seneca Nation’s gambling marketplace to a statewide consumer base via mobile betting in what would likely be a considerable financial jolt for the tribe.

Place your bets: Cuomo wants sports gambling in upstate New York casinos

“We want to make sure we are consistent with the tribal compact, so that’s something we felt we had to include," Senator Joseph Addabbo, a Queens Democrat and Senate sponsor of the bill, said of the changes he and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, a Westchester County Democrat, made to their online sports betting legislation that is pending at the Capitol.

The amendments come in advance of a hearing Addabbo is holding Wednesday in Albany that will feature various stakeholders – from representatives of pro sports leagues and existing commercial casinos to racing interests.

An invitation by Addabbo to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s top adviser on gambling matters was declined Monday evening because of a scheduling conflict.

Efforts to include sports betting provisions in the 2019 state budget failed in early spring. A push is now on by advocates to get the measure included in the mix of matters for Cuomo and legislative leaders to negotiate next month before the session ends on June 18.

Sports betting may be in place in New York by the start of the NFL season, but bettors will have to physically travel to one of the four casinos – authorized under a 2013 measure – located in Seneca, Schenectady, Tioga or Sullivan counties. That 2013 bill legalizing new commercial casinos included a provision permitting them to someday offer sports betting if a federal ban on such wagering was ever lifted. That prohibition ended with a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Stakeholders descend on Albany

Industry groups, including major gambling companies and pro sports leagues, have been pushing to go another step further: online sports betting. They say the in-person wagering will have little real impact and offer little hope of luring people in the downstate population centers to far-flung casinos in upstate.

Pegula Sports Entertainment, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, began making clear to state officials in March that they want in on internet-based sports gambling if it is legalized in the state.

The newly amended sports betting bill by Addabbo and Pretlow, who chair their respective racing and wagering committees in the Senate and Assembly, eliminated the creation of casino “affiliates” – defined as off-track betting corporations such as Western Regional OTB, a racetrack in Queens and potentially arenas and stadiums.

“I’ve always said the initial phases of sports betting will look a lot different from the future versions of sports betting," Addabbo said. Some of the amendments, such as eliminating the ability of OTBs and others to offer sports betting were done “to make the bill more palatable with the (Cuomo) administration."

The new wording limits the online sports betting opportunities to the four new commercial casinos and Indian tribes that have casino compact deals with the state; those are the Senecas; Oneidas in central New York; and St. Regis Mohawks near the St. Lawrence River in the northern part of the state.

Tribes could, if they chose, opt out of offering online sports betting. If so, “geo fencing” technology would be used to block online bets from taking place with existing exclusivity zones that were created in Indian casino deals with the state to block new gambling from entering large geographic areas near Indian casinos.

If the tribes participate in online wagering under the terms of the new amendments, they could accept wagers from anywhere in the state, but they would also have to allow online sports bets by casinos located outside of their exclusivity zones.

“It allows us to have further dialogue with the three tribes. I think our relationships with the three tribes should be built on a working relationship," Addabbo said Tuesday.

Senecas monitoring sports betting developments

The Seneca Nation said it will have representatives at Addabbo’s hearing, but declined to specifically say if New York legalizes what the tribe characterized as a “potentially lucrative gaming option."

“The Seneca Nation is monitoring this effort and is optimistic that Senator Addabbo has taken the time and made the effort to reach out to the Native nations in New York for our input on a bill that has the potential to impact our existing gaming operations,’’ the tribe said in a statement.

The legislation also affirmatively states that New York would consider any future online sports bets – no matter where the gambler is within the borders of the state – to have occurred at one of the participating casinos, where the computer servers would be based to process the wagers.

A who’s who from the sports and gambling worlds is expected to attend Addabbo's hearing: representatives are scheduled from the NBA, PGA, NFL Players Association, casinos, the New York Racing Association and online sports operators such as FanDuel and Scientific Games. A casino addiction expert is due to testify as is the head of a group that has opposed the spread of gambling in New York.

One person not coming: Robert Williams, head of Cuomo’s state Gaming Commission. Addabbo said Williams cited a scheduling conflict.

The absence of a Cuomo administration representative means the senators will not be able to hear directly about concerns the governor might have about online sports wagering, or the status of the more limited, in-person sports betting program at commercial casinos.

“We need clarity," Addabbo said of Cuomo’s position.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Cuomo administration said its opinion of online sports wagering has not been altered. “We have constitutional concerns on this issue that we have raised for nearly and year, and our position remains the same. We will review the revised bill," said Jason Conwall, a Cuomo spokesman.

Addabbo said the point of the hearing is “hopefully to create a road map for our state in terms of where we are going with this issue of sports betting … It’s really ‘where are we going in the state, if we’re going anywhere?' "

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