An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In New York State
New York is often thought of as a strictly anti-gambling State. They drove the internet gambling crack-down known as ‘Black Friday’ in 2011 and were instrumental in clarifying the scope of the Wire Act. Nowadays, things are swinging towards the progressive side, with an act to authorize commercial casinos in addition to the tribal ones, and more liberal horse racing betting laws than many States. This article takes you through all you need to know about the gambling laws in New York State.
First of all below, we go back in time and begin a quick-fire history of gambling laws in New York State that takes us right up to the present day. After that I have gone through the different types of gambling one-by-one, explaining the legality of each. Next things go to the more detailed level, with excerpts from the current laws and a legal timeline too. At the end of this page you will find a summary and a look at possible future scenarios.
This State are pioneers in the world of gambling – unfortunately not in a positive way, as they were the first to constitutionally ban it! After the 1821 ban there were further bans in 1864 and 1894, which heralded the start of the prohibition era that lasted until the end of the 1930s. Gambling still took place on a massive scale during this era, controlled in underground casinos by the ‘families’ who made up the Mob.
The first legal gambling in New York State was horse racing. In line with many other States this was based on pari-mutuel (or pooled) betting systems, and only permitted on the track. Since then the racing tracks have been allowed to use Simulcast systems (which show races from other tracks around the US) and have gaming machines for their customers – making them into ‘racinos’. These are now popular entertainment venues.
Things developed slowly from here, with Bingo games going legal in 1957, a lottery in 1966 and then charity gaming following in 1970.
The breakthrough for casino and poker fans came much later, when casinos on tribal lands were allowed to operate the top-tier ‘class 3’ games which include slots and table games. This led to a boom in casino building by the Indian tribes, and gives New Yorkers the wide choice of casino and poker rooms they know today. The tribal casinos will soon be joined by commercial ones. In 2013, legislation based on Economic development for the upstate area was passed that will enable several new casinos to open.
One interesting aspect of New York State’s gambling laws is that players in any form of game are not the target for criminal sanctions. While this State is very hard on organizers of illegal gambling, players – including in poker home-games – are not the targets.
Casino Gambling: Yes, you can enjoy casino games at several Tribal casinos in this State. More recently a bill for licensing commercial casinos in upstate New York was passed, with the first licenses expected during 2014.
Online Casinos: No, there is nothing explicit on the statues concerning internet gambling, however New York drove the 2011 Black Friday clampdown of online gambling sites through their courts. This is a clear indication that this State believes that internet gambling is illegal based on their existing laws and the Federal codes.
Live Poker: Yes, you can enjoy live poker games in Tribal casinos. Social poker games have an explicit carve-out too under State law. As long as nobody is making a profit from the game, and it is played on equal terms, then it is expressly not considered illegal.
Online Poker: No, as with online casinos it is considered illegal to operate online poker games. Note that this State does not criminalize players of gambling games – so there is nothing to stop you from participating.
Sports Betting: Yes, Pari-Mutuel betting is allowed in this State, including remotely, you can also enjoy Simulcasts of races. Racetracks are allowed certain types of lottery / bingo like gaming machines – making them into ‘racinos’.
Lottery Betting: Yes, New York has a lottery and offers the inter-State games too.
Bingo Games: Yes, Bingo and raffle type games fall under the Charity Gaming carve out (though games need to be individually approved). There are no provisions for charity poker games.
Other than tribal casinos and limited gambling opportunities at racetracks, New York has not historically been a gambling-friendly place. Add to this their involvement in ‘Black Friday’ (the internet gambling crackdown) and you might get the impression that a trip to a neighboring State could be required. However, there are some signs of progress, especially a new bill for licensing State casinos in the underdeveloped up-State areas – which shows things are moving in the direction of liberalization rather than prohibition here.
The statute books have broad definitions of both gambling and games of chance – designed to catch all of the forms of gambling in one sweeping catch-all definition. For poker fans, the game of skill argument is not going to help you in this State. One silver lining is that simply playing in a game is exempted from criminal sanctions here, New York prefer to go after the profiteers, organizers and promoters of gambling games.
Here are the key passages, firstly the contest of chance rules:
And the broader ‘Gambling’ definition: “2. “Gambling” 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 or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. “
Here are the key dates in the New York gambling legislation timeline:
1821: An amendment to the 2nd constitution of New York contains its first recorded ban on gambling.
1864: Lotteries that were prevalent at this time were banned (these were more like the raffles we know today). 30 years later, in 1894, all other forms of gambling were also banned in line with many other States this was the start of the puritanical ‘prohibition era’.
1939: Pari-Mutuel betting was legalized for the first time.
1957: Bingo games for charity were legalized.
1966: New York’s State lottery was legalized.
1973: Oversight board for horse racing was created, called the ‘State Racing And Wagering Board’.
1993: Indian Reservation Casinos legalized, with the Oneida Tribe opening their doors that same year. This followed the 1988 Federal ‘Indian Gaming Regulation Act’. Many more casinos would open their doors over the next 20 years.
2011: The courts in the Southern District of New York launched a clamp-down on online gambling sites which is known as ‘Black Friday’. This cited Federal Laws (the UIGEA) rather than State ones. However, if residents of this State were in any doubt about their government’s stance on online gambling, this clarified things.
2013: Amendment passed to license Non-tribal (commercial) casinos, this is part of a development plan for up-State New York.
As long as you are not the organizer of a for-profit unlicensed gambling operation in New York State, you are not breaking the law. There are plenty of licensed tribal casinos and racinos to choose from, and opportunities to enjoy bingo and charity gaming too. The recent legalization of commercial casinos is an encouraging sign for New York residents – that the old laws in this area are starting be replaced with progressive new legislation.
Whether New York will enter any regulated online gambling markets is difficult to say. On one hand they have made their gambling laws more liberal recently. On the other hand they did lead the crack-down against what they perceived as illegal online gambling in 2011.
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