Featured Story

Governor announces proposals to legalize marijuana, sports betting

As state officials contend with a dire financial crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo Wednesday announced his support for legalizing recreational marijuana and online sports betting ahead of his annual state of the state address next week.

In his address, expected to be delivered Monday, the governor is expected to announce a series of revenue-generating mechanisms in a spending plan to address shortfalls intensified by the health crisis.

Under his proposal, the New York State Gaming Commission would issue a request for proposals and select an operator to offer mobile sports wagering in New York, which Mr. Cuomo said has the potential to become the largest betting market in the United States.

At a news conference Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo likened the sports betting proposal to the way the state lottery is run, with states collecting the revenue. “Many states have done sports betting, but they basically allow casinos to run their own gambling operations. That makes a lot of money for casinos, but it makes minimal money for the state. I’m not here to make casinos a lot of money, I’m here to raise funds for the state,” he said.

State budget director Robert Mujica said the state has lost billions of dollars to neighboring states when it comes to sports betting.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal law that prohibited most states from authorizing sports wagering. It’s now legal online in 14 states including New Jersey and Pennsylvania and officials said an industry study found that nearly 20 percent of New Jersey’s sports wagering revenue comes from New York residents.

Gov. Cuomo also renewed a call for legalizing recreational marijuana Wednesday, a proposal that has stalled for nearly two years. When a similar proposal was being considered in 2019, both Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said they would support an initial one-year moratorium on the cultivation and sale of marijuana while weighing its effects and benefits.

Gov. Cuomo said Wednesday that it should have been passed “years ago.”

“Too many people have been imprisoned, and incarcerated, and punished. Too many of those people are Black, Latino, and poor. It’s exaggerated the injustice of the justice system,” he said, adding that the financial situation may give the proposal momentum to clear the finish line.

Under that proposal, sales would be limited to adults 21 years old and over and strict quality and safety controls would be put in place for the packaging, labeling, advertising, and testing of all cannabis products. 

In addition, the governor said the state would offer licensing opportunities to entrepreneurs in communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

“Despite the many challenges New York has faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also created a number of opportunities to correct long standing wrongs and build New York back better than ever before,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “Not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provide the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition.”

Once implemented, the measure could generate more than $300 million in tax revenue.