New York governor boosts sports betting, cannabis to help pandemic-battered economy

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, facing an economic chasm resulting from COVID-19 shutdowns, wants to follow neighboring New Jersey in legalizing mobile sports betting and recreational marijuana to help his state regain its financial footing.

After years of resisting the legalization of online sports betting, the governor will push for the lucrative measure in his State of the State address next week

"New York has the potential to be the largest sports wagering market in the United States and by legalizing online sports betting we aim to keep millions of dollars of tax revenue here at home, which will only strengthen our ability to rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis," Cuomo said in a statement.

Under his proposal, the New York State Gaming Commission would select a sports operator or platform that has partnered with an existing licensed casino. However, unlike some other states' online betting schemes, New York's would be administered so that a greater portion of the revenue goes into state coffers rather than to the casino, Cuomo said.

"We want to do so the way we do the lottery, where the state gets the revenues," Cuomo told a press conference.

Online sports betting in New York was estimated to bring the state as much as $500 million a year, Cuomo's administration said.

Another revenue stream that will be pushed by Cuomo is the legalization of recreational marijuana, which was expected to eventually generate more than $300 million in tax revenue.

"The governor's proposal builds on years of work to understand and decriminalize cannabis for adult use," the Cuomo administration said in a statement.

"Decades of cannabis prohibition have failed to achieve public health and safety goals and have led to unjust arrests and convictions particularly in communities of color."

In 2019, Cuomo signed legislation to decriminalize unlawful possession of marijuana.

Voters in New Jersey in November legalized marijuana for recreational use.

The likelihood that online sports betting may help New York close its multibillion-dollar budget gap is highlighted by the success across the Hudson River, with New Jersey's sports betting handle, or total amount wagered, in November amounting to $931.6 million. At the same time, New Jersey's sports books recorded $50.6 million in revenue and $6.2 million in taxes.

An estimated 20 percent of New Jersey's sports betting revenue comes from New Yorkers who cross bridges and tunnels to bet.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Editing by Nick Zieminski and Steve Orlofsky)