There isn’t a single state more notorious for its underground card playing scene than the Empire State. From the time before Stu Unger was crushing mobsters at gin, New York City has been a gambler’s haven, attracting all kinds of colorful characters – many of whom did their rounds in NYC’s back alley clubs before tearing up the live tournament poker circuit.
Yet, compared to other states in the Northeast, New York’s legal gambling scene is woefully behind the times. In fact, on April 15, 2011 (Black Friday) it was the US District Attorney’s Office of Southern New York that unsheathed an indictment against the four biggest online poker operators accepting players from the United States .
But thanks to Governor Cuomo and his pro-gambling stance it appears that commercial casinos and potentially regulated online poker will eventually become a staple of New York culture. Change is on the horizon.
Can Players from New York Play Real-Money Online Poker?
There are no regulated online poker sites accepting players from New York. The best alternative New Yorkers have right now is to pack their bags and head over to New Jersey, where a thriving iGaming industry is already in place. Non-US players have significantly more poker sites to choose from, all of which provide a stellar virtual poker experience.
Is Online Poker Legal in New York?
Although online gambling is not specifically mentioned in New York’s gambling statutes , the 2011 implications against PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg and others gambling operators involved in the U.S. post-UIGEA lead us to believe that
unlawful gambling extends to the Internet.
That being said, it’s largely unclear as to whether poker itself is considered gambling. To illustrate: In 2012 a federal judge ruled in favor of Lawrence DiCristina – a small-time poker operator who was arrested for hosting a game out of his Staten Island warehouse. DiCristina would dispute that poker was not a game of chance but skill, and therefore exempt from federal law. Judge Weinstein would ultimately agree .
However, Weinstein also pointed out that individual states still have the power to ban unregulated poker operations. But until New York updates their gambling laws to specifically address online poker, its legal status will remain somewhat up to interpretation, and a hot topic of debate.
According to New York law,
gambling is defined as:
A person engages in gambling when he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control of influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. Section 225.00 (2)
Digging further, the state defines a
contest of chance as:
Contest of chance means any contest, game, gaming scheme or gaming device in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein. Section 225.00 (1)
To paraphrase, the material degree test states that if chance plays a role, regardless of how dominant, in a game, that that game may be deemed a contest of chance. Just based on this, it can be assumed that unauthorized online poker is in fact, considered illegal.
In any event, players who simply participate in an unregulated poker game do not face criminal charges. The same cannot be said about operators, who are subject to either a class A misdemeanor or class E felony, depending on the amount of money involved and several other variables.
On a final note: In so long as the house doesn’t take a rake or benefit materially in any other way, social gambling hosts and participants appear to be exempt from criminal charges.
- March 2013: New York’s State Senate pushes for the legalization of online poker to be included in an early version of the state budget . Unfortunately, there is not enough support in the Assembly to warrant final approval.
- March 2014: State Senator John Bonacic introduces S 6913 – an online poker-only bill. The legislation calls for up to 10 operating licenses to be issued at $10 million apiece. Licenses would expire after 10 years. Bonacic bill also calls for a
bad actorclause and for operators to fork over 15 percent of gross revenues to the state .
- May 2014: A sister bill to S 6013 is put forth in the Assembly . A09509 is virtually identical to its Senate counterpart. The general consensus among lawmakers is that the bill will not pass. Instead emphasis will be placed on expanding New York’s land-based casino industry.
New York Gambling History
Although gambling thrived in New York throughout the Colonial Era and the US’s early days, lawmakers were quick to outlaw everything but authorized lotteries as part of the Second Constitution in 1821. By 1894, lotteries would fall victim as well.
It would remain that way until 1939, when the Constitution was revised to permit pari-mutuel wagering. The sudden change of heart was predicated by a decade long depression that would ravage the nation’s economy.
Bingo would be legalized in 1957, followed shortly thereafter by the reemergence of a state lottery (1966) and charitable gambling (1975). By 1993, the state’s Indian tribes were granted permission to construct and operate Class III casino establishments. The Oneida Indian Nation would be the first to take advantage of its good fortune, opening the now fabled Turning Stone Resort and Casino  in mid-1993.
During the past few years, New York’s gambling proponents have spent the majority of their efforts pushing for legalized commercial casinos – a push that looks like it’s about to pay dividends.
Regulated Gambling Options in New York
All forms of regulated gambling sans commercial casinos are currently available in the Empire State. Currently the state houses a total of 18 racinos and tribal casinos, most of which are sprinkled throughout the five boroughs and central and western New York State.
Other Recent Headlines
In November, 2013 voters approved the construction of commercial casinos in New York State . It is expected that upwards of seven new casinos will launch in the coming years, with the first four located in the Catskills, the greater Albany area and the Southern Tier. Odds are that the Catskills two existing racinos – Saratoga Raceway and Tioga Downs – will be among the first to be converted into full-fledged casinos.
The passing of the referendum also paves the way for New York City’s existing racinos in Yonkers and Queens to be upgraded, although this will not happen until a seven year exclusivity clause has expired.
The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in New York
With Governor Cuomo open to and seemingly in favor of gambling expansion, it would come as little surprise if an iGaming bill got the OK within the next several years.
However, any iGaming bill may receive resistance from the state’s tribal factions, who fear that online gaming may cannibalize their land-based business. The Seneca tribe in particular, has vocalized its concerns.
That being said, data collected in New Jersey has already confirmed that online and land-based gamblers are of two different stocks. Furthermore, an online poker-only bill would hardly pose the same threat to b & m gambling that Internet casino legislation would.
Given these variables, it’s likely that once New York establishes a firmer plan regarding commercial gambling, that online poker will be addressed more seriously.
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