The long awaited legalization of mixed martial arts (MMA) in the state of New York is finally here. The New York State Assembly passed the measure on Tuesday, March 22nd by an overwhelming 113-25 vote. Governor Andrew Cuomo is all that would stand in the way of the sport’s legality and there is no indication that he will veto the bill since he added a provision for MMA in the state’s budget in January of this year. New York will now become the final state to permit the activities of the nation’s fastest growing sport.
To review, one of the major driving forces in MMA’s continuing prohibition in the Empire State was the political influence of labor unions. The Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), the biggest MMA organization in the country, is owned by brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. The Fertitta’s other business venture, Station Casinos in Las Vegas, uses a non-union culinary staff. As retaliation for this, the New York headquartered umbrella organization (Unite Here) for the culinary union pressured the union bankrolled politicians in that state to keep MMA illegal. The official ban had been in place since 1997.
Perhaps this legalization of the country’s fastest growing sport came not as a result of any ideological shift, but a simple desire to open up a new market within the state. The tax revenue generated by an MMA event would be considerable and it would be difficult for New York politicians to pass that up. This especially becomes the case since the state plans to tax Mixed Martial Arts events at an even higher rate than boxing or wrestling matches. Add this to neighboring states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania (along with all other states) being able to host these kinds of fights while New York sits on the sidelines and you are bound to create a strong desire among residents to experience what they alone are missing out on.
But another factor may be the declining membership and power of unions in America. The percentage of American workers who are union members has been declining steadily since the mid 1950’s. New York’s holdout on MMA legalization was largely a result of the influence that unions still have in that state. But now that even New York has caved while Station Casinos’ culinary staff is still non-union, that influence has clearly declined. The lifting of the state’s MMA ban certainly is a victory for those who view the decline of union power in America as a positive development.
So while the unions have lost out, other entities will benefit. Private businesses will obtain more revenue through transactions. Government will obtain more revenue by taxing future MMA events. Fans of MMA in New York will be able to take part in the festivities. MMA fighters in the state will now be able to participate in the sport legally and safely since it will no longer be driven underground by the previous ban. In the end, the benefits of legalizing this activity in New York far outweighed the costs of making the union bosses happy. Look for New York to host at least one MMA event before the end of 2016. The Empire State has now joined the rest of the nation in finally welcoming a widely accepted sport and resisting the pressures from organized labor to keep it illegal. To the victors will go the spoils.