Hochul puts daughter of casino lobbyist on gaming oversight board

New York Post
Hochul puts daughter of casino lobbyist on gaming oversight board
Wild Casino

Gov. Kathy Hochul appointed the daughter of a veteran gambling lobbyist to the state board that regulates the industry — raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest from government watchdogs, The Post has learned.

Marissa Shorenstein — who served as head of Hochul’s transition team when she became governor — was tapped as commissioner on the New York Gaming Commission despite her dad’s clients including some with business before the board, public records show.

Stuart Shorenstein has long been an active lobbyist and adviser to gaming firms, and is currently listed as repping the Swedish internet gambling giant Evolution Malta, which is pushing to legalize online betting in New York.

Shorenstein and the firm he co-founded — Cozen O’Connor — also is listed as the lobbying firm for HBC- Saks Fifth Avenue, which is pushing for a plan to open a casino above its flagship Manhattan store.

“I’ve dealt with Stuart on a number of gaming issues — starting with mobile sports betting,” said Joseph Addabbo (D-Queens), chairman of the state Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering.

Mobile sports betting, launched in New York in 2022, is overseen by the gaming commission that includes Marissa Shorenstein, who was placed on the board that June, records show.

One government watchdog said it’s inappropriate to put the daughter of gambling lobbyist on the board that regulates and investigates the industry, including clients or potential clients of Shorenstein’s father.

“This is a head shaker. This is planet Albany,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a non-profit government accountability and transparency group.

“Why appoint Shorenstein to something directly related to her father’s job? There are so many boards and commissions the governor could have appointed Shorenstein to. Why appoint her to the one that raises red flags?” added Kaehny.

“It’s absurd.”

Hochul’s office and Marissa Shorenstein, who was press secretary to former Gov. David Paterson and currently serves as chief external officer at Brooklyn-based sports and entertainment firm BSE, declined direct comment.

But a top official with the state Gaming Commission, responding on the governor and Marissa Shorenstein’s behalf, insisted the latter’s family gambling connection was much ado about nothing.

“Marissa Shorenstein is a highly-qualified individual with decades of leadership in the public and private sector, who has always abided by the highest ethical standards on the Gaming Commission,” said the commission’s deputy executive director, Lee Park. “It’s shameful that anonymous critics are making sensational allegations.”

The Gaming Commission said it has robust policies and procedures related to recusals for all commissioners and that Shorenstein was “transparent and forthcoming” about her dad’s ties to the industry and that she “already recused” herself from weighing in on cases involving her father and his firm, Cozen O’Connor and Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies.

The commission also said its appointees — including Shorenstein — will not be making the decision to award up to three casino licenses in the downstate region. An Independent Gaming Facility Location Board will select the winners.

The commission regulates casinos and other other aspects of gaming activity in the state, including horse racing, state lottery games, sports betting, interactive fantasy sports and charitable games.

Stuart Shorenstein declined comment.

Shorenstein’s client — Evolution — has come under the microscope in recent years.

The firm specializes in online live gambling of games such as blackjack and roulette, with real dealers, and provides feeds to a number of independent online casino operators.

Private investigators for an unnamed competitor claimed they were able to access and play Evolution’s games from countries such as Iran, in violation of US sanctions, according to reports in Bloomberg News and Reuters.

Evolution declined comment, but previously denied the accusations of operating in sanctioned countries and maintained it has complied with all laws and regulations. 

State Sen. Addabbo just introduced legislation to legalize remote gambling on games such as blackjack and poker.

But his bill would have the gaming commission bar any license to firms that accept or have accepted revenue “directly or indirectly” from operations on the US “Black List of Money Laundering Countries” or designated state sponsors of terrorism.