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?
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.