Cuomo says he’s open to lifting mixed martial arts ban

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo said lifting the state’s ban on professional mixed martial arts bouts should be “pursued,” but suggested he would like to see a “multi-year commitment” from the Ultimate Fighting Championship before it’s a done deal.

Speaking to reporters following a meeting with legislative leaders Tuesday, Cuomo was asked whether MMA has been part of budget negotiations — given the potential of economic impact from hosting large-scale bouts.

Cuomo said the issue hasn’t come up in budget negotiations, but said he thinks it should be discussed after the budget is passed. He said his administration would be more open to considering it if the Ultimate Fighting Championship — by far MMA’s biggest promoter — put together a formal plan for events they plan to host in New York.

“If they (UFC) put together a package that said, ‘This is what MMA would mean to the state of New York. We’ll do Buffalo. We’ll do Syracuse. We’ll do Rochester. Here’s a multi-year commitment. We think we’ll bring X millions of visitors, X millions in revenues,'” Cuomo said, “that’s something we would seriously consider.”

“It’s about jobs, it’s about economics, and we’re doing everything we can,” he continued.

The state Senate last week passed a bill that would lift the ban, regulate MMA and tax it. The Assembly, however, hasn’t committed to bringing it to the floor for a vote, and face pressure from groups who think the sport is too barbaric and violent.

“It’s something I want to talk about during the session because there are certain — Look, we’re looking for economic activity wherever we can find it,” Cuomo said. “Mixed martial arts is a possible place for economic activity. We have a big viewership for MMA now. I understand the flip side, but I think it’s something that should be pursued, definitely.”

Meanwhile, legislative leaders had little to say after exiting Cuomo’s office Tuesday, except to reiterate their hope to come to a framework budget agreement before the week is through. The state’s budget deadline is March 31, but lawmakers are scheduled to begin their recess after March 21.

In their one-house budget plan, the Senate coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats included a plan to allow online poker as a potential revenue generator for New York. Cuomo said the issue is being discussed, but he has questions about the legality of making such a change.

Cuomo also said he has questions about the impact of potential online gambling on physical casinos. His budget plan calls for siting three Las Vegas-style casinos upstate, though the Legislature and voters would first have to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow it to happen.

“Also if you’re talking about siting casinos at the same time, what does online gaming mean for the value of the franchises?” Cuomo said. “If you diminish the value of a physical casino franchise if at the same time you’re doing online casino gaming. Those are some of the issues we’re looking at.”

(Mike Groll / AP Photo)

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