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Editorial: Online sports betting begins with loud bang

Online sports betting arrived in New York State last month and in just 30 days has shown its potential to be a cash windfall with a future of growth. 

Over the days leading up to the Super Bowl, some $8 billion in bets were placed across the country. In New York alone, $2 billion worth of bets were placed in the first 30 days of legal sports wagering that began on Jan. 8.

On Monday, Gov. Kathy Hochul gushed in a press release that the net to the state in tax revenue for that first month would top more than $70 million. The prospects for a full year are incredible.

As has been the case for years since the advent of lottery and other betting in the state, the governor said this new cash haul would go toward all sorts of good things. We certainly hope this is true and not some political shell game in which money gets moved around in ways that are not fully transparent.

“Over the past month, we’ve seen how mobile sports wagering can be an economic engine for New York, driving significant funding to our schools, youth sports and so much more,” she said. “As the new industry continues to grow, New York will make sure we have the resources and guidelines in place to make it a success for all.”

It certainly won’t be a success for many bettors, but that is another issue. The state has already set up a help line for anyone with a gambling problem. The line has a catchy way to remember it: 1-877-8-HOPENY.

According to the governor’s release, some 98% of the tax generated from sports betting will fund education, 1% will fund sports programs for underserved youth and 1% will fund problem gambling and treatment programs.

If this holds up over the coming years, the net tax revenue from online sports wagering in the state will be a huge economic benefit. While the governor’s release does not specify how, for example, the 98% for education will actually be distributed, and to what areas, it raises hopes that perhaps it will go to actual classroom programs. 

Taxpayers at the end of this first year of online sports betting in the state should demand to see where every dollar went.

Long Island is among the highest taxed regions of the country, with public officials, including school superintendents, receiving what have long been described as exorbitant compensation packages. Newsday reported Tuesday that the Manhasset school board approved a separation agreement with its superintendent following a sexual harassment investigation.

What jumped out in the story is that the board voted unanimously to pay the superintendent his full base salary — $286,844 — until his contract expires in June 2023. Long Island taxpayers are very generous with their money.

With new revenue streams added to keep the state and local governments afloat, taxpayers should demand money be used effectively, for worthwhile programs but also to keep property taxes and other government fees from rising and thus help people stay in their homes.

Unlike the state effort to legalize marijuana use and distribution as a government revenue stream, which some local governments have opted out of, sports betting promises some large dollars over time for something that was always going on anyway.

What has to happen now is that government has to keep a very close eye on how the money is distributed, and that the money goes to educational and classroom programs and not to shore up superintendent’s salaries that are among the highest in the nation.

If 1% is to go to underserved youth programs — prove it each year. If government watchdogs can effectively monitor the betting windfall, then the legalization of mobile betting that began last month will be a benefit to the state and taxpayers.

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