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Mobile sports betting in New York brings interest, optimism and concern

Jesse King
The Rivers Casino sportsbook in 2019

After mobile sports betting began in New York earlier this month, licensed operators are reporting positive results and planning how to expand further.

New York first allowed sports betting in the state’s four upstate casinos in 2019. It ultimately followed the lead of neighboring states, like New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, when it legalized mobile sports betting last year.

New York State Senator Joe Addabbo Jr., chair of the Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering, is a Democrat from Queens. He said the move is keeping revenue from migrating out of New York.

"This past weekend, just it proves something: that New Yorkers were waiting to use a product in New York, because the volume was so great that I believe the Caesars app crashed," he said.

The state Gaming Commission approved four mobile apps to launch on the eve of the NFL playoffs: DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel, Caesars Sportsbook and BetRivers. MGM Resorts' Empire City Casino and Madison Square Garden launched its mobile app, BetMGM, Monday.

Four additional operators are still awaiting approval — BallyBet, Wynn Interactive, Resorts World Bet and PointsBet.

Addabbo wants to expedite their approval.

“This is something that if we don't do anything, it happens anyway in the year 2023. So. we're looking to basically expedite it by at least one year. By expediting it, we get to realize in New York state budget revenue of roughly $2 billion,” he said. “This is something that again, with the licenses being expedited and activated, we're going to recognize a significant amount of revenue, educational funds and jobs here. So, this is something that we should talk about in the budget, because again, we're still within the negative (and) throes of the fiscal impact the COVID pandemic.”

According to Rush Street Interactive, NFL betting accounted for 49 percent of the bets in the first 24 hours after going live, ahead of NBA and NCAA basketball wagering.

If you’ve been on social media, used a streaming service and watched sports in recent days, you’ve probably noticed the barrage of ads and promotional offers tied to the launch.

CEO Richard Schwartz with Rush Street Interactive, which owns the BetsRiver app, says mobile sports betting is becoming an increasingly popular entertainment source and was overdue in New York.

“I think there was some frustration from fans who would like to do it. And clearly you saw a lot of traffic visiting New Jersey, of people in New York instead of being able to bet from the convenience of their homes in New York,“ Schwartz said. ”So, you had a lot of frustration to some rumors, some conjecture that 15 to 20 percent of the revenues generated from New Jersey were actually generated from New Yorkers. That now that New York is legal with mobile sports, we will reclaim much of those revenues. So, I think there's a lot of interest in this activity because it is highly regulated, highly safe, as actual level of engagement and fun for the user experience that people wanted it sooner than it arrived.”

Elisa Richardson with BetMGM agrees, saying some people traveled across state lines just to bet.

“Our offices are headquartered in Jersey City, right on the water, and there would be people just taking the ferry over from New York, placing a bet and getting right back on the ferry,” Richardson said. “People driving over the bridge, you know, it definitely is happening. If you have a state like New York or close to other states, especially a state like New Jersey, where sports betting was first legalize — safe to say that people are going to cross over and bet.”

Not all New Yorkers are hailing the approval of mobile sports betting. Northeast Problem Gambling Resource Center Team Leader Brandy Richards says with easier access to gambling comes an increase in problem gambling.

“There's a wide variety of groups that we're concerned about: individuals, even a younger generation of individuals who may not have been attracted to gambling before, this may be something with the marketing and the promotions and may be something that they turn to and it has the probability to really develop into a problem very quickly,” Richards said.

Looking forward, businesses and state lawmakers like Addabbo are hoping to expand mobile gambling even further.

“Another discussion I will have in the budget is about how to incorporate horse racing into the mobile sports betting so that we can help the horse racing industry. And then a New Yorker would be able to bet any of the major sports as well as horse racing. So we're going to talk about that too, as well in the budgetary process,” he said.

Mobile wagering on horse racing has been legal in New York for years.

As part of the deal to legalize mobile sports betting, the New York Gaming Commission requires any party that runs a betting app to add protections and limits on betting. For example, Caesars Sportsbook allows a player to set a maximum bet limit for a selected timeframe, such as daily or weekly. Richards applauded any effort to help problem gambling.

“I think there's a level of privacy that goes along with that. We often call gambling ‘the hidden addiction,’ because it's something that's easily to hide. There's no blood tests. There's none of those smells, there's nothing that you can openly and readily see on somebody,” Richards said. “So, it's something that's very easy to hide and I think our concern is that with the ease of access, and people can just bet on their phones at home, they can do it at work. So, that accessibility is really huge for us.”

Richards has already seen a spike in calls linked to mobile sports betting. She says research shows sports bettors tend to have higher rates of gambling problems, nearly twice as high as those who don’t bet on games.

Richardson says MGM would be interested in expanding to full legalized gambling through mobile apps.

“People love going to casinos, it's never going to change. But if you're at home, I don't know if you've ever played an online game. But it's really fun. There's an entertainment aspect there,” Richardson said. “Yeah, something engaging you can do on your phone. And you know, whether you're betting small or big, there's an excitement there for sure.”

Copyright 2022 WAMC Northeast Public Radio. To see more, visit WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

Ashley Hupfl