New York Online Poker Legal Constraints

New York may be average in terms of its size, ranked the 27th largest state in the US, but if any territory knows how to pack in the populous, it’s this one. The Empire State is practically overflowing with the 3rd highest population of 19,651,127 (est. 2013). The economy is built upon an eclectic variety of industries that includes everything from cattle and apples to electronics and printing/publishing. Tourism plays a huge role in the state’s revenue and includes a wide range of casino gambling, although much of it is the untaxed tribal variety.

Though the state has toyed with the idea of adding online poker to the list of authorized gaming, New York has not elected to regulate the activity just yet. Without regulations in place, it’s easy to assume that online poker must be illegal by default, but that’s not always the case with US states. We will examine the laws and legalities of gambling in New York to determine if online poker is legal, illegal or somewhere in the middle.

Land-based Gambling in New York

Gambling in all forms (except lotteries) was prohibited in New York in 1821, followed by a lottery ban in 1864. I wasn’t until 1939 that pari-mutuel betting on horse races became a legal activity, and charitable bingo games in 1957. The New York State Lottery was re-enacted in 1968, and a limited number of chance-based gambling games were permitted for charitable purposes only in 1975. As for traditional casino gambling, that didn’t arrive until 1993, 5 years after the IGRA, when tribal gambling became legal on a Class III level (games played against the ‘house’; no poker). Along the way, three tribes were granted Class II gaming licenses from the NIGC to offer bingo and poker games, and horse tracks were eventually permitted to operate as racinos, but were restricted to Class III gaming.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy devastated the northeast, causing $42 billion worth of damage in New York alone. The expansion of casino gambling became a huge topic, hoped to serve as a means of recovering some of those outrageous expenditures. The next year, a bill passed to allow up to 7, full-fledged commercial casinos in up-state New York, expected to open as early as 2016.

Due to the rapid expansion of gambling approved by politicians and voters alike, it’s certainly not a far stretch to think that online poker will be added to the menu. However, officials have clearly stated that they wish to focus on the expansion of the state’s land-based gambling industry before paving anymore new paths.

Deciphering the Laws of New York as they relate to Online Poker

The gambling laws of New York do reference the internet, but only in the authorization of online pari-mutuel wagering. Since online poker is not yet a regulated activity, we will next observe the Penal Code of New York as it may relate to internet poker games.

Section Text Meaning (in re online poker)
§ 225.000 Gambling offenses; definitions of terms 1.  “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. Poker is contest of chance in New York.
2. “Gambling.” A person engages in gambling when he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance…upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. Playing poker for real money is defined as gambling in New York.
3.  “Player” means a person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving or becoming entitled to receive any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings… A person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with the other participants therein does not otherwise render material assistance to the establishment… A poker player who stands to gain nothing but personal gambling winnings is a player; (as opposed to advancing gambling activity or profiting from gambling activity).
7.  “Gambling  device” means any device,  machine, paraphernalia or equipment which is used or usable in the playing phases of any  gambling activity, whether such activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine A computer or mobile device can be used in the playing phases of any gambling activity. If one such device is used to play real money online poker, it could potentially be defined as a gambling device.
12. “Unlawful” means not specifically authorized by law. Any gambling activity that is not expressly authorized in New York is illegal by default.
§ 225.30 Possession of a gambling device. a. A person is guilty of possession of a gambling device when, with knowledge of the character  thereof, he or she manufactures, sells, transports,  places  or possesses, or conducts or negotiates any transaction affecting or designed to affect ownership, custody or use of:
1. A slot machine…
2. Any other gambling device, believing that the same is to be used in the advancement of unlawful gambling activity…
Possession of a gambling device is a class A misdemeanor.
Possessing a gambling device and knowing it is to be used for conducting illegal gambling is punishable by up to 1 year in jail and/or up to $1,000 fine.

Is Online Poker Illegal in New York?

Yes. The definitions of contest of chance and gambling undeniably include the game of poker, and any gambling activity that is not specifically authorized by state law is consequentially deemed unlawful. Therefore, without a regulated online poker market in New York, one must assume that it is illegal to play poker online for real money. It should be noted, however, that there is no punishment imposed for players who wager on illegal gambling activities. The only possible penalty for an online poker player would be the possession of a gambling device, which does carry a fairly hefty punishment.

Is New York working to legalize Online Poker?

Yes. After passing a bill to expand the land-based casino gambling industry in 2013, New York legislators went the extra step to introduce not one, but two online poker bills, A 9509 and S 6913, in March of 2014. The first was stricken almost immediately, but the second was amended and referred to the Racing, Gaming and Wagering committee. Unfortunately, it’s laid dormant ever since. New York legislators made it quite clear that 2014 was not the time for a regulated online poker market. Officials would rather focus on the current casino expansions in up-state New York for the time being.

On the whole, yes, New York is expected to legalize online poker, but it could be 2016 before the issue resurfaces as a serious topic.

Online Poker Players from New York

New York is brimming with grinders of the virtual felt, and for the most part, they aren’t too shy about their online poker prowess. John “elitewrestla” / “fml4dawin” Russo, Richard “purefocussss” / “anenchephalous” Block, Charles “ottoclem” Geier, James “foldbos” Gettinger, Chris “kekzee” Delarato, Jesse “Jhateeee” Haight, Connie “Garnet78” Rinaldi, Jake “jmasterrich” / “Brooklynblunts” Richards, the list goes on and on…

Land-Based Card Rooms in New York

There are currently 18 casinos in New York, but only 4 of them boast a live poker room. 10 of them fall into the category of Native American casinos, while the other 8 are state-regulated racinos (horse tracks supplemented with casino style gambling). The list below is ordered alphabetically by name, including location and the availability of a poker room.

Akwesasne Mohawk Casino
Location: Hogansburg, NY
Poker Room: No

Batavia Downs Casino
Location: Batavia, NY
Poker Room: No

Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway
Location: Yonkers, NY
Poker Room: No

The Fairgrounds Gaming
Location: Hamburg, NY
Poker Room: No

Finger Lakes Gaming and Race Track
Location: Farmington, NY
Poker Room: No

Lakeside Entertainment
Location: Union Springs, NY
Poker Room: No

Mohawk Bingo Palace and Casino
Location: Akwesasne, NY
Poker Room: Yes

Monticello Gaming & Raceway
Location: Monticello, NY
Poker Room: No

Resorts World Casino New York
Location: Ozone Park, NY
Poker Room: No

Saratoga Casino and Raceway
Location: Saratoga Springs, NY
Poker Room: No

Seneca Allegany Casino
Location: Salamanca, NY
Poker Room: No

Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino
Location: Buffalo, NY
Poker Room: No

Seneca Gaming and Entertainment
Location: Irving, NY
Poker Room: No

Seneca Gaming and Entertainment
Location: Salamanca, NY
Poker Room: Yes

Seneca Niagara Casino
Location: Niagara Falls, NY
Poker Room: Yes

Tioga Downs & Casino
Location: Nichols, NY
Poker Room: No

Turning Stone Resort & Casino
Location: Verona, NY
Poker Room: Yes

Vernon Downs & Casino
Location: Vernon, NY
Poker Room: No


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