Happy April 1st as we conjure up that scene from Casablanca when the croupier starts the roulette wheel spinning. The game in Albany is being played, indeed. Two of today’s items swirl around the push to include more gambling — downstate casinos and mobile sports betting — in the final hours of negotiations over the state budget. Further down, we collect the jokes being played by NYC mayoral candidates. But first take a look at a Point exclusive: a map which reveals vaccine penetration in Suffolk County. Click the link for an interactive version.
The Point will return to your mailbox on Monday.
—Rita Ciolli @ritaciolli
See who is receiving Suffolk’s COVID-19 vaccines
Vaccine sites run by Suffolk County have administered first doses to 48,494 individuals from across Suffolk and beyond, according to data provided to The Point by Deputy County Executive Lisa Black.
More than 3,700 of those vaccine recipients, about 7.7% of the total, live in two ZIP codes – 11706 and 11717, in the Brentwood and Bay Shore areas. Another 6.6% – 3,226 residents – came from Huntington Station and Central Islip.
That’s significant because it seems to indicate that the county’s efforts to target minority neighborhoods, some underserved by health care networks and often hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, have been successful in some of those pockets.
Is mobile betting on the move?
The United States Supreme Court struck down a federal ban in all but four states on sports betting in May 2018. Three years later, New York still favors the illegal bookie.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been trying to push upstate casinos as economic development engines since they were legalized in 2016, and legal sports gambling is permitted on-premises.
Cuomo, however, originally gave three rationales for blocking mobile sports betting, claiming it demanded a constitutional change, it was not an important driver of revenue, and the monopolies of the upstate casinos would drive business their way.
But in January, the governor dropped the constitutional and revenue small-ball arguments and proposed a public-private partnership under which the State Gaming Commission would issue a request for proposals to select an operator to run online gambling in the state.
Cuomo’s plan is a model similar to the way sports betting is run in New Hampshire, where the state awarded DraftKings the exclusive mobile betting franchise in return for 51% of the profits going to state coffers. And Cuomo is still working toward a vision that drives the resulting revenue upstate.
But the blueprint in the identical State Senate and Assembly bill under consideration calls for up to 14 "skins," or mobile betting licenses, and a far more competitive market. That’s similar to New Jersey, where all 12 casinos and the four racetracks in the state have the legal right to accept sports wagers … and where 20% of the play is estimated to come out of New Yorkers’ pockets.
Under Cuomo’s vision, the state will get a higher percentage of proceeds, but Senate Gaming Committee Chairman Joseph Addabbo argues the product created will be so inferior to that of other states and illegal bookmakers that it won’t create the same-sized market or serve New York gamblers properly.
"Gamblers shop," Addabbo told The Point. "They want an extra half-point on a spread, better odds on their bet. And competition makes for better pricing, in sports gambling as in anything."
Thursday afternoon, as the Yankees played their first game of the season as a heavy favorite against Toronto, those issues were still being contested on the Albany ballfield, with the odds of more legal gambling in New York getting longer, and the grins of the illegal bookies growing wider.
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
Lobbyists win big as gaming companies ramp up efforts in NY
Whatever happens with expanding gambling this budget cycle, the casino giants shelled out and the Albany lobbyists got paid.
Genting New York LLC spent a cool $752,000 from July through December 2020 lobbying on gaming issues, including casino licenses and state casino gaming initiatives, according to the state’s Joint Commision on Public Ethics database. And bimonthly filings covering the first two months of 2021 show that lobbyists working on gaming issues for Genting, which operates Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct, have been paid over $290,000 already.
The company’s registered lobbyists include Albany Strategic Advisors, Blue Suit Strategies, C & C GL, Patrick B. Jenkins and Associates, and Ward Strategies.
MGM has multiple legal entities, from MGM Resorts Global Development LLC to MGM Resorts International Operations and MGM Yonkers, which overall compensated lobbyists over $225,000 in the July through December period last year, plus another $60,000 on gaming issues in January and February and $22,500 on miscellaneous business.
The MGM-connected lobbyists include Greenberg Traurig and Global Strategy Group.
The gambling heavyweights appear eager to tap more into a still-fertile market. The Point reported last week on the advertising campaign run by Las Vegas Sands Corp. for a full-blown downstate casino expansion.
Sands also is playing the Albany game, of course, with $206,970 spent on total lobbying compensation in that July through December period last year.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
NYC mayoral race has a few yuks
After the absolute PR nightmare of Volkswagen of America’s pre-April 1 statement/joke/repeated lie about changing its brand name to "Voltswagen," you might have expected politicians to lay low for this April Fool’s.
But there must have been something funny in the water in NYC.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, announced a "major new initiative" in the realm of baseball: a "Designated Hitter for All."
The notorious Red Sox fan joked about needing to protect NYC’s most precious asset, Jacob deGrom, even as the mayor used the gag to hearken back to his universal pre-k successes.
In the race to replace de Blasio, there were also some April 1 gags. Kathryn Gacia highlighted her unabashed bureaucrat background with a faux-scheduled event featuring the giveaway of a gritty piece of municipal machinery: "10:00 AM — Announces Nationally Unprecedented Plan to Put a Multihog in the Hands of Every New Yorker."
Housing specialist Shaun Donovan released a plan to "repair, rebuild, and reimagine the New York Jets," replete with bullet points and details like "The Donovan Administration will organize a working group to help stabilize the Jets leadership, where there have been 3 Head Coaches in four years."
Naturally, the bon mots were less about hilarity than highlighting some featured piece of the politician’s background or message, just one more attempt to cut through to voters who are just beginning to pay attention with less than three months before the big Democratic mayoral primary.
That shortening of the runway to get recognition may also be behind the recent uptick in candidates criticizing Andrew Yang, the former longshot presidential contender with no experience in New York government who has been consistently leading the field.
For his part, Yang has largely tried to swim above the fray with an upbeat and often in-person campaigning style that amplifies his vast name recognition and social media persona more than a record of political achievement. That was all on display in the music video Yang released Thursday, featuring jokes from well-known rapper MC Jin and self-referential lines like "‘The War on Normal People’ opened up my eyes" and basic income being the "only way to combat poverty. Log onto Yang for NY dot com for each policy."
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano