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Sports Wagering is a Safe Bet for New York

The following op-ed appeared in Crain’s New York Business on May 24, 2018

By Kathryn Wylde

Personally, I don’t gamble. When I find lottery receipts under the mattress, my husband gets a lecture about money not growing on trees. But New York cannot afford to have neighboring states close their budget deficits with gambling proceeds from our region while we sit by and watch.

There is a huge underground economy in New York state that is partly fueled by illegal sports betting. Estimates of this activity in New York are as high as $9 billion a year. Legalizing, monitoring and taxing it is now possible under a U.S. Supreme Court decision this month. Lots of states are moving quickly to do just that.

In the coming years, our state budget is projected to face average annual revenue gaps in the billions of dollars. We have enormous infrastructure needs and, with diminishing federal funding, the state government will have to step up. The same is true when it comes to the costs of education,  health care, economic development and other areas where public funding needs are substantial.

Raising taxes to close deficits and pay for needed services would be difficult. We are already seeing jobs and some high earners move out of the state because our taxes are among the highest in the country. And it will get even worse, as many resident taxpayers will see their personal income tax burden increase because new federal law prevents them from fully deducting state and local income taxes and property taxes from their federal tax obligation.

When it comes to the state budget, everyone has ideas for how to spend money. Finding practical ways to generate it is a lot harder. We cannot dismiss the advantages of legalizing sports betting in New York, as a source of new revenues and to control criminal activity.

Whether they bet online or in casinos, New York residents are soon going to have easy access to sports wagering opportunities in New Jersey and Connecticut. We might as well figure out how to manage this activity and derive public benefits for New York, because it will be happening whether we do so or not.