New York continues to struggle to find the best way to expand gaming options for state residents

New York State is trying to find its footing as it paves the way for online Vegas casino poker and sportsbooks to operate in the state while acknowledging challenges facing its upstate casinos.

New York Sportsbooks to Open in May 2019

The New York Gaming Commission has published regulations for sports betting in the state and, barring any last minute glitches, four upstate casinos are set to open sportsbooks this May. Since the Supreme Court ruled last May that states could legislate sports betting in their own jurisdictions, New York has been struggling to meet the needs and wishes of wagering sports fans with concerns about expanding gambling in the state.

For now, it seems that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the majority of state assembly representatives are prepared to meet the demand for the widespread legalization of online poker and sports betting, though they must still find the solution to several obstacles.

Cuomo, who is not a supporter of expanded casino and sports betting in the state, has nevertheless given the green light for the four upstate casinos to open sportsbooks. In his 2019 State of the State address, he said: “Let’s authorize sports betting in the upstate casinos. It’s here. It’s a reality, and it will generate activity in those casinos.”

The state was able to institute these changes without the passage of any new bills, thanks to a piece of 2013 legislation that allows the upstate casinos to offer sports betting without additional legislative action. The 2013 bill says that, if the federal ban on sports betting is lifted, the casinos can offer it.

That federal ban ended in May 2018 and since that date, a number of states have legalized sports betting. Now the New York casinos are hoping that the sportsbooks will boost their revenues and attract bettors who have, up until now, been crossing the border into New Jersey to place bets legally.  

The casinos that will now open sportsbooks in upstate New York include the Rivers Casino, the Resorts World Catskills, Del Lago Resort and Tioga Downs. These casinos have been struggling financially since they opened in 2015. None has yet hit their annual revenue target, due, most analysts say, to the fact that they’re located in rural areas, far from New York’s major population centers. The casino operators hope that the addition of the sportsbooks will change that and help the casinos to attract more visitors.

The casinos are actually not expecting to make much of a profit. However, they believe that by drawing more visitors, they will attract gamers who will then stay to play additional casino games, stay at their hotels and dine in their restaurants. Most of the profits that the casinos make from sports betting are expected to come indirectly. 

At present, mobile sports betting won’t be available in New York. Cuomo has not mentioned it and there’s no money set aside in the 2019 budget to introduce online betting in New York. Cuomo doesn’t believe that mobile sports betting has the potential to bring significant revenues. The governor is not a supporter of gambling in the state but he is prepared to allow the upstate casinos to offer sports betting so that it can help them survive. He doesn’t, however, want to see gambling expand in the state, at least not too quickly.

Cuomo said that “We have sports betting that you can do through a casino and we are trying to support our casinos, which, you know, we did primarily upstate as an economic development vehicle. I’ve never been crazy about casinos, but life is options. Many upstate communities, we have a prison industry or nothing. So the casinos, especially the way we did it, they are high-paying jobs, they’re jobs with mobility, this would help fortify the upstate casinos.”

In addition to the sportsbooks, the casinos will also be permitted to maintain automatic sports betting machines on their facilities. Bets can also be accepted via these machines.

Upstate New York Casinos Reduce Slot Machines

Two of the upstate casinos, Resorts World Catskills, near Monticello in New York, and Tioga Downs, located just outside Binghamton, are planning to reduce the number of slot machines in their casinos as a cost-cutting move. The New York State Gaming Commission has given them permission to reduce their number of machines. Tigoa Downs will drop its slot machine numbers from 942 to 822 and Resorts World Catskills will reduce from 2,150 to 1600.

Jeff Gurral, the owner of Tioga Downs, said he’s planning to use the freed up space for sports betting but it’s clear that the casino had no choice but reduce costs. Resorts World Catskills has only posted $117 in winnings per machine since its opening in 2015.   

Clyde Barrow, a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said:

“When casinos start reducing the number of slot machines on the floor it’s a sign that they overestimated the strength of the market. Most operators like to maintain a $200 per day win per machine and reducing the number of slots is one way of doing it.” 

Upstate New York casinos have not realized the profits that they envisioned when they opened. Some local gamblers prefer to head up to Montreal while downstate players often cross the border to play at New Jersey or  Pennsylvania casinos. It’s hoped that, now that the state is allowing the update casinos to offer sports betting, more New York money will stay in the state.

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