Op-Ed | Gaming is already here, now let’s make it count

Rich Maroko

Since Governor Kathy Hochul included a proposal in her executive budget that would allow for casino licenses to be issued in the downstate area two months ago, there has been much debate over whether or not to bring gaming to New York City.

But if we’re being honest with ourselves, that debate is in our rearview mirror because gaming – in the form of mobile sports betting – is already happening right here and right now. What still lies ahead is the most important benefit gaming offers and the one thing that mobile gaming has not and cannot provide: the jobs and boost to our hospitality and tourism industries that an acceleration of full casino gaming options would bring. 

Since mobile sports betting came online in New York just six weeks ago, we have seen a record-breaking $2.8 billion in bets wagered by millions of New Yorkers, and that’s with March Madness and the NBA playoffs still to come. All that money changing hands may make for impressive statistics, but not a cent of it is landing in the pockets of those who need it most, namely the thousands of unemployed hospitality workers that would immediately benefit from an expansion of full casino gaming in the downstate area.

As president of the union that represents gaming and hospitality workers, I can say based on firsthand knowledge that our hotel and tourism industries have been hit harder and struggled longer than almost any other sector due to COVID. New York may be rebounding, but the thousands of jobs and billions in tourism revenue won’t unless we do something drastic and immediate to turn the tide. An expansion of gaming options is the game-changer we have been waiting for and that we desperately need.

According to a report issued last year by Spectrum Gaming Group for the New York State Gaming Commission, the economic impact of downstate commercial casinos would be enormous. Thousands of extremely high-quality jobs with full health benefits, $1.5 billion in licensing fees, and hundreds of millions in revenue annually for the state, including money for public education, are just some of the critical reasons for bringing full casino gaming to the downstate area.

With nearly half of our unionized hotel workforce still unemployed due to the pandemic and two years of diminished business and leisure travel bookings, we don’t have the luxury of getting this wrong. We know the new jobs that will be created will be good jobs because we already have seen what these jobs mean for our members who work at existing gaming facilities. 

At Resorts World Casino in Queens and Empire City Casino in Yonkers, where only electronic gaming options are currently available, our members receive family-sustaining salaries of about $70,000 per year, with cost-free high-quality healthcare and defined pension plans. Combined with the strongest workplace protections in the industry, thanks to our Union contract, these jobs are truly unique, but they shouldn’t be exclusive to those who already have them.

Thousands of New Yorkers, including many hospitality workers who have been unemployed since the start of the pandemic could find themselves back to work if we took this unique moment to double down on this economic opportunity by permitting full casino gaming operations in the Downstate area.

Tourism workers have endured the most difficult economic challenges of their lives over the past two years, but now we have the opportunity of a lifetime to begin to turn things around. With billions of dollars already being wagered online by state residents over the course of just a few weeks, there is no reason not to expand gaming operations that benefit actual working New Yorkers by creating good jobs.

All that’s left is for the state to act now and approve the acceleration of downstate gaming licenses.

Rich Maroko is president of the 40,000 member NY Hotel & Gaming Trades Council, the union for hotel and gaming workers in New York and Northern New Jersey.