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Exclusive: Interview with N.Y. State Assemblyman Bob Reilly, Part Two

This is part two of my talk for this SportsIllustrated.com article with New York State Assemblyman Bob Reilly.  If you missed it, you can read part one here.  Once again, I’d like to thank Mr. Reilly for talking with me and explaining his position.  You should also check out the SI article for some rebuttal comments from the UFC’s Marc Ratner.

You say you think MMA would be financially harmful to the state.  How would it harm New York to allow the sport and the UFC to hold events there?

You know, I got the study the UFC did, and based on their studies, they use Buffalo, but I use Albany since they’re similar cities, we have an arena here in Albany that seats about 19,000.  They would say they would bring in about $4 million in the live gate here.  They say the tax revenue would add about half a million to the local economy.  And I say, yes, but at the same time three and a half million would head back to Vegas.  

And here’s where I get a little heady, because just about every casino in this country is surrounded by poverty.  If you go out to Turning Stone in our state, where the people who run it say it’s the only successful economic development we have, but in every case, whether it’s Turning Stone or Atlantic City or Las Vegas, these are sumptuous palaces surrounded by poverty.  And that’s who runs the UFC is these Las Vegas casino owners.  So if they come here the same thing would happen.  You can’t take three and a half million bucks out of the economy and expect it to work.  We made the mistake already of thinking that gambling will save us from this economic recession, but let’s not add to it and think this is the savior.


I don’t understand the link to casinos and gambling, other than the fact that the owners of the UFC also own some casinos that are separate, as a business, from the UFC.  Wouldn’t bringing in tourism money and having activity at these arenas create jobs and infuse the local economy with money from other states?

They come for a day and work in the arena.  But if you look at the money, the hundreds of millions of dollars that they’re making, this is a very small part.  The lobbyists for mixed martial arts have said to me on several occasions, anything you need, tell us and we’ll get it for you.  The guys from Vegas flew in here again last week or the week before, and the lobbyist who was with him said this again, and I told him that I’d already asked for the information on the revenue generated from pay-per-view, and they haven’t done it.  They say, ‘Oh, I’ll get that to you.’  But here I sit.  

And I don’t like the fallback position of tax revenue that, you know, where is it?  But again, you can’t take an area and take money out of it and expect it to flourish.  What you’re saying to me is, aren’t they putting half a million in tax revenue into the local economy?  But do they take three and a half million back to Vegas?  Yes.

So the UFC says they’d take three and a half million back to Vegas out of the four million they generate…

They don’t say that.  They say it would generate a half a million dollars worth of business.

Isn’t that still better than nothing?  Couldn’t people turn around and say, Bob Reilly is only against this because the state isn’t getting a big enough cut?

But Ben, we started with four million.  Now we’re down to half a million?  Let me say, the question is does this help the economic status of New York, and does this help the economic status of the individual municipalities where the events would be held?  It’s not, ‘Bob Reilly is against capitalism’ or anything like that.  

They’ve done a study on it using New York City and Buffalo and I don’t dispute that.  But the people who own this Ultimate Fighting aren’t millionaires, they’re billionaires.  They’re Las Vegas casino owners.  I was in Las Vegas about six weeks ago.  At that time, the government was set to cut the wages of teachers and public employees by six percent.  That’s not a community.  At the same time, at one event out there, the lowest priced ticket was $340 or something like that.  My number may be a little wrong but it’s about that.  I don’t see how that helps build an economy.  

They will come to somewhere like Albany and say, this is creating jobs.  But this doesn’t create jobs, it just takes money out of the economy.  And I understand that some of the money comes from outside the area.  But the bottom line is, you have four million dollars in the area, and it generates a half a million of economic activity, three and a half million leaves your area.  I’m not against gambling and I’m not against casinos, but I think we’ve become as a society and as a government in New York, too dependent on gambling as a source of revenue.

I hear you repeatedly making these comparisons to gambling and casinos.  Is that only because the Fertittas own casinos?

Not just because, but in part.  I do compare the two activities somewhat.  But what has mixed martial arts done for Las Vegas?  Many of those casinos are now going broke.  The city is in a bad financial situation.  So it hasn’t done too much for their economy.

To get away from the economic argument for a moment, what about the issue of personal liberty for the fighters who want to participate in this and make a living in their home state and the fans who want to see it?  What do you say to the fighter who says you’re stopping him from making a living just because you find the sport offensive?

I think that’s a very valid question.  Another issue that we’re debating at the present moment in New York is whether to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, rather than just liquor stores.  The grocery stores make a good point and there are invariably merits on both sides of the issue.  But I’m opposed to it because it would drive most of our small, locally owned liquor stores out of business.  In my area of the state, if you want to go to a fish market, a butcher, a bakery, or a florist, you go to the huge supermarket.  One of the only things they don’t sell is wine.  I want to preserve those small liquor stores because I think they help our economy.  But there’s merits on both sides of the issue.  So it is here.  

The argument you just made, I get many emails that make that argument, but this is the role of government.  Government says what you can and can’t do.  Government says you can’t drive over a certain speed limit or you can’t sell wine in grocery stores or you can’t stage a dog fight…

Now, hold on, isn’t that an offensive analogy?

People might get angry about the analogy and say the difference is that a person can choose to get into a ring and fight and a dog can’t, but so be it, even boxing is very highly regulated affair.  And let me make one other point.  This is not Bob Reilly’s issue alone.  I have people coming up to me about it all the time.  I conducted a poll…

I saw your poll, yes.

…Right, and the poll said 67% of people oppose this.  That’s not Bob Reilly saying this, that’s our people.  67% of them.  And the UFC has this PR firm, Global Strategies, and they immediately attacked the legitimacy of the poll saying, you said the sport was illegal.  Well, what am I supposed to say, it’s legal?  It isn’t.  But the point is, people don’t want it.  They don’t want it.

Realistically, what do you think your chances are of keeping MMA out of New York long term?

You want me to answer honestly?  

Please.

Okay.  I think that it will not be legalized this year.  I think that in the future there might be some radical changes that will be made.  For example, the people supporting it…in our original legislation to legalize it the state was to get 3% of the gate.  I did some research and found that in other states they got 10%.  So I pointed this out and the sponsor of the legislation changed it to read 10%.  Now, I’m very interested to see – and I have a background in TV – and I’m very interested in what the revenue is from pay-per-view.  I believe the real money in all sports is TV.  And so the hundreds of millions of dollars generated in mixed martial arts is in TV, but to get the amount of tax revenue generated by that, they’d have to give us the information on that and they don’t give us the information.

Do you feel like you’re fighting a futile fight against a big company in a kind of David & Goliath story?

Well, the original plan was for them to push this through without anyone noticing.  And I went to explain why I was voting against it, and lo and behold the majority of the committee members voted against it.  But yes, I am the most visible legislator in opposition to this.  

Do I feel like David and Goliath in this?  I do somewhat.  Just the amounts of money involved alone.  They were here recently giving very sizable donations to individual legislators, and they have this whole PR firm.  And against that I have myself.  So yes, I feel like I’m up against a giant.

(BF)

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DSE- April 19, 2009 at 6:23 pm
The argument actually makes a lot of sense from an economic perspective. What the angry commentators arent realizing is... the UFC isnt putting 500,000 into the local economy, its taking 3,500,000 out of it. The 4m from the gate are being paid by local residents who would of spent that money on other items (potentially supplied by local stores/vendors).
Lexical- March 16, 2009 at 7:03 pm
I have a question. Where is the guy at that bashes fighters all day? Wheres the guy that trashes the Tapout guys, the Affliction wearers, Tito Ortiz and pretty much every guy that has gotten cut from the UFC since you started this website? You dont have a problem slamming guys that have the guts to get in the cage/ring, or the guy that painted his face and created a persona, helping fighters pay bills and feed their families while they train. Where the fuck was that guy when it was time to confront Bob Reilly?!! You turned into exactly what you are, a big mouthed little pussy who talks shit about fighters and important figures in our sport, but would stammer and cower if anyone called you on your bullshit.
The guys that had all sorts of smart assed comments for Bob Reilly, when you werent actually talking to Bob Reilly. Bens, YOU are whats wrong with our sport. YOU are the keyboard warriors who piss the intelligent fight fans off. YOU are the reasons alot of fighters dont go on the internet, because they try to avoid the negativity that is dished at them for any personality flaw or past losses.
Lets look at you for what you are. Your mouthy, disrespectful, ignorant, spineless bloggers. By the way, you dont get a free pass for all the shit you said about Charles, and when the next tragedy in MMA happens, and you give the same transparent half apology, I hope it clicks in your head that your damaging the fighters and the sport as a whole.
Imbecile- March 16, 2009 at 9:38 am
@ erik macfarlane

I couldn't agree less with this moron, Bob Reilly, but the last thing we need is more young people getting involved. They are too stupid to even understand when they are being sold down the river by the older generations right now, and they are the ones who voted for this. The young people were the ones who were all caught up in the great fun of hope and change, and change an hope. These bright eyed youngsters decided they would get off their beer-soaked couches on election day, take a few aspirin to clear up the hangover, and go punch the ticket for Obama and friends. Then they would happily go back to their lives that are completely paid for by their parents and the world would be filled with hope and change. Well... these idiots got what they deserved. All these trillions everyone keeps hearing about don't really exist. They are simply leveraged debtto be paid by these same children that helped push these people into office. The government is now spending with the same way as the people with all this piling credit card debt, and the youth are who will pay for it down the road. They should take a good look at their parents' and grandparents' lives, and realize they will never be able to retire that way because of this debt. And the youth is too stupid to understand this, so they should be the last people we elect into office. Maybe they would legalize MMA, but that isn't an issue that anyone should be basing their entire vote on.
erik macfarlane- March 15, 2009 at 9:55 am
This comment is exactly why we need young people to get involved in their communities and politics in general. Young people need to run for office. Take the power back from these dinosaurs who are immune to anything new. Their tired arguments and tired old thinking make me sick. Young people unite and take the power back!
Tynomite- March 15, 2009 at 6:45 am
Ok, so if it is bad for our economy to hold a UFC event in Albany because 75% of the money from the live gate is taken out of state, using that same rationalization wouldn't it also then be bad to hold any concerts, where after the show all the money from that live gate leaves thes state as well? Does he have a problem with concerts coming to town?
Cronk- March 14, 2009 at 6:42 pm
Honestly, this guy needs to go to his local community college and try some econ 101. Because if there is one thing we know, it's that foreign investment hurts an economy, and that protectionism is the key to prosperity.

I mean, I planned on making a few points about how horrendously wrong, conflicting, or illogical some of his statements are, but there is no way I have the time. The fact that he truly believes what he says is astounding. Almost every sentence drips with a completele ignorance of economics, society, or even logic.

New York, what the fuck is wrong with you people? How is this man in office?
Aenarion- March 14, 2009 at 1:40 pm
Clearly anonymous missed my second post.
Anonymous- March 14, 2009 at 11:42 am
aenarion you are a complete fucking moron you need to shut the fuck up, new york does not only make 500k and lose 3.5million. they make money off hotels, food, tourism that is coming to watch the ufc in new york, they are not coming to see new york so you see in fact new york is benefitting off of the ufc's image not the other way around. you must suck reilly's dick for a living or something cause your a complete fucking moron and make no sense just like reilly.
L-nad- March 14, 2009 at 11:03 am
As an on and off violent alcoholic, I resent the fact that he is willing to go to bat for liqour stores but use the violence begets violence argument about mma when we all know that alcohol begets violence, serious violence. In mma two men agree to fight eachother in a controlled, sanctioned environment, whereas my family has never agreed to any of the fights my drinking has caused, there were no refs no rounds and no economic upside. In short, Bobby ought to consider some of the violence his previous legislation has begat.
HulkSmash- March 14, 2009 at 10:01 am
No, just a guy who speaks out when someone in power abuses it.
Imbecile- March 14, 2009 at 9:46 am
What I can't understand is why Bob Reilly wants to stop there? If the UFC would be "taking" all of their money back to Vegas, why not stop others from doing the same? Why would he let those greedy fat cats from New York City come into poor Albany and start a business if they might send some of the money back to their rich banks in Manhattan? Albany should be for Albany, and that is it!!! Kick out all the Starbucks, and McDonalds, and the airlines, and car companies, and anyone not exclusively creating, manufacturing, selling, and keeping their money within the confines of the Albany city limits. Fuck these interlopers! In fact, there should be no coffee, or hamburgers, or cars in Albany at all, since the coffee was grown in Columbia, and the beef was raised in Iowa, and the cars were made in Japan. People in Albany don't need choices, they need economic containment of their money so not a single dollar leaves the city.

Come on Bob, grow a pair and start protecting the little guy. He doesn't want better prices, more job opportunities, more consumer choices, and a better quality of life. What he needs is you telling him what he should like, and what he should live with, and he needs you are protecting him from all of these people who want to take his money elsewhere. You know better how to live people's lives, Bob. You know you do. So why not try and show these poor sheep that they desperately need a shepherd like you to run their lives.
Anonymous- March 14, 2009 at 9:06 am
wow...his opinions or assumptions sounds like they can be personal/ or very political...cause he doesnt like it, everyone from NY is screwed...whut a fuckin hypocrite....cant believe we have idiots in office who bullshit on paper like this guy
Jrod- March 14, 2009 at 8:57 am
This guy bobs and weaves around the questions like... i don't know... Tank abbott
Anonymous- March 14, 2009 at 8:05 am
@Steve4192

and wait why would UNITE HERE want to force the fertitas to a union shop...MORE MONEY. Unions exist to make money.../slap.

@aenarion
The top five largest retailers by sales revenue in 2008
Target - HQ in Minnesota
WalMart - HQ in Arkansas
Home Depot - HQ in Georgia
Kroger - HQ in Ohio
CostCo - HQ in Washington
Do any of these operate in NY because then all the money would be leaving NY too...

WAKE UP, please.
Dakyn- March 14, 2009 at 7:11 am
I don't agree with the guy or anything, but the UFC is bent as hell and controversial doesn't even cover their business strategies and complete lack of ethics.
Politics suck- March 14, 2009 at 7:02 am
Notice how Reilly was trying to argue against MMA in NY claiming most people don't want (referencing bogus polls) and how he thought it was too brutal, etc. Then at the end he basically says that if the state could get a bigger chunk of the money that would be made by the promotion for an MMA event then he'd be OK with it? So basically he's saying, to hell with my "moral" stance on this, if we can get more money let's do it. What a sellout for his own cause (if he even actually believes that and isn't trying to use it as a bargaining chip).
LukeTheDuke- March 14, 2009 at 6:14 am
Not quite Jim Cramer vs. John Stewart but still pretty good. (Stewart def. Cramer R1 via brutal verbal ass raping)
Steve4192- March 14, 2009 at 5:26 am
"The is only one reason behind everything - MORE MONEY."

Nah.

The only reason that Reilly is opposed to MMA is because his union masters at UNITE HERE told him to.

UNITE HERE still has sand in their vagina over the Fertitta's squashing their efforts to make Station Casino's a union shop. They lacked the political clout to hurt the Fertitta's in Nevada, but in New York they have politicians like Reilly in their pocket and can make life miserable for the brothers.

This isn't about the brutality of the sport, the decline of western civilization, or the economic realities of interstate commerce. It is about organized labor wanting to extract their pound of flesh from one of their enemies.
Durden- March 14, 2009 at 1:36 am
Is that the idiot from Fox?
HulkSmash- March 14, 2009 at 12:27 am
@aenarion

So the argument stands to reason that any form of entertainment that does not originate in New York should be banned, because that is the economic basis of Bob's argument. I believe golden Boy promotions is based in California. Does that mean any boxing event put on by Oscar is not allowed as all those dollars go straight back to California.

I believe Bob just needs to man up and admit what this is about-Control and his desire to tell us what is good for us and what he feels we should do. It's all about control for him because if it wasn't he wouldn't use knee-jerk reactionary protectionist rants and hypoctritical statements about violence and sport and then admitting to liking boxing, saying it's different from MMA but b eing unable to say why with any degree of knowledge ro authority on the subject.
T Mac- March 13, 2009 at 11:50 pm
Great cut at it Ben, but you missed the biggest angle in this whole thing... the labor union lobby. MMApayout had an excellent article on this angle a few weeks back. Essentially there is a labor union lobby who is trying to push Station Casinos to have their employees form a union. The PR firm that conducted Rielly's "67% against" poll is the PR firm on retainer for this huge labor union lobby.

Two points to refute the Rielly:

1.) The $4 million in live gate isn't the only money genearted for a city hosting a UFC event. That would be like saying the Super Bowl only brings in the cost of tickets x number of seats. The impact on the local economy is really from the hotel rooms being filled, the restuarants have heavier traffic the weekend of an event, etc. This is basic sport event economics. He continually goes back the $4 million of which only $500k stays here. He is focused on a single aspect of the economic impact. Local businesses will see a boost in sales.
2.) He plays the same old politician card of "they have all this money, all these resources, I'm just a public servant fighting the good fight" bs. Sure he didn't personally pay for the PR firm to conduct the study he mentions refers to, however a lobbiest who wants something from him did. Politicians have indirect resources, not piles of cash they personally spend.

Politics are a game, once we understand how its played its easy to see why Rielly is campaigning against this issue. He may find it personally offensive, but that isn't the crux of the matter, its a union issue as it so often is in politics.
Aenarion- March 13, 2009 at 11:33 pm
@Whiteghost

Oh wow, you've convinced me of the error of my ways. Not.
Unlike Las Vegas, New York does not live and die by tourism. It has a community of people that actually live there, and generally speaking they are rich as hell and indulge in luxury goods. Where is Madison Square Garden?... in Manhattan, which just happens to be the personal per capita richest county in the whole fucking country. What else is in New York, particularly Manhattan? More corporate headquarters than any other county in the country! So when some of the world's most powerful businesses are already flying in partners and prospects and looking to entertain them, they will buy them UFC tickets with New York dollars. Those are gonna be going right back to Vegas, and not staying in New York. Once the novelty of Madison Square Garden wears off, most of the live gate is going to be made up of New Yorkers, and there won't be all those secondary transactions you speak of. Dumbshit.
HulkSmash- March 13, 2009 at 10:35 pm
@aenarion- Another aspect to look at is the whole "Adults should be able to spend their money where they choose." Making the whole Vegas argument means new york residents should not be able to travel to other states to spend their money, or buy over the internet from another state. See where he is going with this. Is he going to outlaw travel to vegas by new york residents.

The bottom line is that any tax paying age of majority adult should be outraged that their right to spend their money how they want would be controlled based on protectionism. It is not how your country was founded and what made it the greatest country in the history of mankind. That was the idea behind your founding fathers and their quest for independence. Cherish it and protect it and don't let a control freak take it from you in the name of "protecting" you.
Whiteghost- March 13, 2009 at 10:18 pm
@ Aenarion- What sham of a school did you study economics at? The 4MM gate comes from across the country, not just the city or state the fight takes place in. Thousands of unique secondary transactions take place (transportation, food, lodging, liquor, tax, etc.) in the local economy that would not have otherwise existed and add to the total economic benefit. Next time you're going to write a tome about something, know what the fuck you're talking about. You've obviously done no dd on this topic.
Aenarion- March 13, 2009 at 8:50 pm
I actually am starting to agree with Reilly. You guys don't seem to understand that the New York government is indeed making 500k, but the city of New York as a whole is losing 3.5 million to Las Vegas. As a whole, New York loses money in this situation. This is like when American car manufacturers choose to produce their cars in Mexico; if you buy "American", sure the CEOs and such at the top of the food chain make bank but the little people make nothing. In this situation, Las Vegas makes a ton of money but New York actually loses 3.5 million net dollars to Vegas. Thus, 3.5 million at a time, New York loses money. I'm sure Reilly wouldn't have a problem with this issue if Zuffa and company were based in NYC, but they're not. MMA could be the safest sport in the world, and fiscally this would not be a responsible move for a New York City that is in a deficit. In organizations like the NFL, New York might not get anything from the away games but they make a ton off of the home games, and even the away games probably due to television rights sales. If New York is in as big of an economic poop hole as everyone seems to be saying, Reilly is making a smart move on behalf of New York and I agree with him. The car manufacturers shouldn't just accept their meager wages and call it a day; they should ask for a slice of the profits. I'm sorry, but New York City is a hell of a lot bigger than Zuffa and the UFC, and Zuffa is trying to get away with making MASSIVE profits off of New York's image while paying crumbs for it (and in a sense actually stealing 3.5 million out of the economy). Zuffa is continuing to make tons of money while at the same time ripping off its employees, and Bens even you agree with this shown by your always included "Underpaid" section in post-fight analysis. Zuffa should be contributing to the New York economy, not robbing it blind while at the same time using its image. The issue at hand here is not "safety", and I bet even Reilly knows that (well maybe not...). But, as I said, even if safety were not a concern if I were a New York lawmaker I would not pass this bill, because all its doing is authorizing the funneling of New York dollars to Vegas. To anyone that hasn't studied economics, I'd advise you to shut the hell up and realize that the man, though an out of touch geezer, does seem to have his constituents at heart. Zuffa is the bad guy here, not Bob Reilly. And this is coming from a fan.
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