on June 14, 2016 – 8:23 PM
, updated June 14, 2016 at 11:19 PM
ALBANY – Happy hour just got a head start on Sundays.
Lawmakers and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo reached a deal Tuesday to allow sales of alcoholic beverages to start at least two hours earlier on Sundays, permitting the bloody mary and mimosa set to begin consuming at 10 a.m. – or even 8 a.m. if bars and restaurants get a special state permit.
The agreement came as a battalion-size corps of lobbyists descended on the State Capitol representing various gambling interests in a frenzied effort to propel – or stop – the State Legislature from adopting a bill this week to legalize daily fantasy sports contests.
Sponsors say they have reached a two-house agreement, although Cuomo is offering some final plans before he signals his support. The big daily fantasy sports companies turned to former National Football League quarterbacks Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills and Vinny Testaverde, to make pitches to lawmakers on their behalf.
Also still in play as the Legislature winds up its session are the extent of changes to ethics or campaign finance laws to try to respond to Albany’s never-ending string of corruption cases.
A plan to permit ride-hailing operations such as Uber and Lyft in upstate and on Long Island was stalling over an insurance liability dispute. An Assembly bill to allow the services had to be pulled off a committee agenda Tuesday when it became clear that it did not have enough votes to be reported out.
Ironically, or not, the deal that will lead to more public drinking on Sundays came on the same day that Cuomo and lawmakers agreed on a package of bills to try to reduce addictions to heroin and prescription drugs.
Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx, said: “It’s not so much that we want to do things to encourage people to drink, but it was just more of a comfort thing. People like to have a mimosa for brunch on Sunday mornings.”
For upstate and Long Island only, licensees can apply to the state for a permit to let them open at 8 a.m.; each licensee can obtain up to 12 such permits in a year. In New York City, where patrons are more likely to rely on mass transit or cabs to hit the bars, the earlier 8 a.m. option is not allowed under the deal reached Tuesday.
The Sunday morning alcohol rule dates from at least the 1934 Alcohol Beverage Control Act.
The issue split the Democratic conference in the Assembly, and supporters had been blaming the slowdown for a deal on Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger, D-Kenmore, chairman of the Assembly’s Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry Committee.
In the end, Schimminger not only agreed to back the bill, but to be its lead sponsor in the Assembly. He said he did so after a number of Cuomo’s proposals were dropped from the omnibus bill. They included plans to relax the long-standing prohibition on granting liquor licenses within 200 feet of a school or house of worship and to lift an outright ban on convicted felons being able to get a liquor license.
“This outcome is far better than what the governor had originally proposed,” Schimminger said.
In the final deal are provisions to let consumers take away wine in a growler from a winery and to permit farm-based alcohol producers to have a combined liquor license to sell wine, beer and distilled products.
Cuomo, in a statement, called the Sunday alcohol deal a way “to overhaul this state’s archaic blue laws” that also helps knock down “artificial barriers for restaurants and small businesses and helping this industry grow even stronger.” The blue law change takes effect as soon as the governor signs the bill.
If there are any doubts that Albany does things at the last minute, consider that by dinnertime Tuesday, both houses had given final passage to 71 different bills – as many as had been approved between the start of the session Jan. 6 and May 19.
On Tuesday, final passage was given to bills providing for special license plates for various groups, extra protection of national landmarks from shoreline erosion and a measure to require that research dogs and cats be offered for adoption before being euthanized.
Meanwhile, the push to allow daily fantasy sports attracted intense interest. Backers want to declare the contests legal forms of gambling as a way to end a legal tussle that last year saw Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman declare them illegal games of chance.
Fantasy sports companies, led by DraftKings and FanDuel, recruited Kelly and Testaverde to meet privately with lawmakers at the Capitol. With industry lobbyists and a publicist close by, Kelly and Testaverde, in one session, huddled behind closed doors for nearly 90 minutes with Senate Republicans. What started as a pitch for fantasy sports ended in an autograph and photo opportunity for senators and staff.
At first, Kelly said he was not being paid and did not have an investment with the fantasy sports companies; he later said he was being paid an “appearance fee” for his Albany trip.
Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, D-Mount Vernon, chairman of the Assembly’s Racing and Wagering Committee, said he believes that a bill is now going to be approved in both houses after he amended his previous legislation to match a pending Senate bill. The Legislature has to approve “same as” bills before legislation can be sent to the governor for his consideration.
“There’s a lot of changes that he’s suggesting at the last minute,” Pretlow said of Cuomo. Pretlow declined to elaborate but said the Assembly and Senate are planning to pass the fantasy sports bills and then negotiate with Cuomo on changes to the measure.
“Whatever the suggestions are, they’re not going to stop this from happening,” Pretlow said.
Showing the fluidity of this Capitol, the Assembly speaker later said the fantasy sports issue is not a done deal. “We’re still measuring whether there’s enough votes to do it,” Heastie told reporters.
Pushing back against fantasy sports are existing and future casino operators in the state. They want to be able to exclusively offer the contests and say that without this assurance, the fantasy sports companies will be able to eat into their revenues.
The existing casinos are pushing for a separate bill to permit online poker wagers in New York, an issue that Pretlow said is dead.
Little is truly dead, however, until the session ends and lawmakers head home.