New York Legal Poker & Gambling

New York Poker Laws

Is Online Poker / Gambling Legal in New York?

New York gambling laws allow for most forms of gambling to be legalized and heavily regulated. Certain gaming industries in New York state appear to have two regulatory bodies which oversee parts of their operations. The state government certainly provides oversight, though the city of New York also appears influential enough to sometimes provide widespread regulation. Given the history of organized crime in New York, it's probably a good idea to have redundancy in certain instances.

Horse racing, harness racing, bingo, raffles, bell jar gaming, Las Vegas nights, casino cruises, lottery sales, and Indian casinos all exist inside the state. In this article, I'll discuss each form of gambling and which agencies regulate these various gambling activities.

Playing Poker in New York State

There are a few key points of the state law of New York that poker players will want to familiarize themselves with. Let's quickly touch on each to understand poker's place in New York state law.

The first: It's not entirely clear if poker qualifies as gambling under New York law. For gambling to occur as defined in New York law, the event wagered upon must be either a) a "contest of chance" or b) involve an event "not under" the player's "control or influence." Poker is a game where players can influence the outcomes - but is it a contest of chance?

Here things get even more murky. New York law (refer to Section 30-19) requires that outcomes must rely on chance to a "material degree" - a term that has no further definition - in order for an activity to be considered a contest of chance.

The question of how much skill relative to chance is involved in poker will continue to be fought in the courts in the years to come. If we proceed with the assumption that poker is in fact gambling for the purposes of New York state law (a position consistent with the general attitude of government on the matter), where does that leave players in New York?

Sitting pretty, as it turns out. Here's the next key point of law: You won't find any charges reserved for individuals who take part in illegal gambling in no capacity greater than that of player. To put it quickly: The game may be illegal, but just playing in it appears to not be a crime in New York.

The final point germane to New York poker players: There are a number of situations where New York's general prohibition on gambling is waived. This includes tribal casinos and social gambling, which gets a pass (thanks to Section 225.00) under the one condition that no one is profiting from the game - at least not as an operator. Taking your friend's bankroll by rivering a straight at a Friday night game is completely legal.

Learn About Other State Laws

New York Racing Authority - NYRA Background

The New York Racing Authority is a particularly powerful racing commission, since the NYRA governs one of the three Triple Crown racetracks. The Triple Crown races are the three most prestigious horse races in North America, as people flock to Churchill Downs in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Park in Elmont, New York for the Belmont Stakes. Since the Belmont Stakes is the third leg of the races, it is the site where Triple Crown winners are crowned. Because it's the third leg, Belmont Park is either the center of the horse racing world for a weekend each year, or an afterthought, depending on whether the Kentucky Derby winner also won the Preakness, thus having the opportunity for a clean sweep of all three of the biggest races for 3 year old thoroughbreds. No horse has won this elusive mark since Affirmed completed the Triple Crown in 1978, so the anticipation grows every year.

That isn't to say the NYRA doesn't have plenty of other duties, since the agency has 11 different horse tracks and racinos to govern each year. For example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for the NYRA to investigate the alarming number of horse deaths in Aqueduct, the racetrack in the Jamaica Neighborhood of Queens. The New York Race Authority handles licensing, pari-mutuel betting, and off-track betting at each facility.

Two of New York's racetracks are traditional tracks, with no casino gaming. These are Belmont Park in Elmont and Saratoga Racetrack in Saratoga Springs. The list of harness racing tracks and racinos includes Empire City at Yonkers Raceway, Batavia Downs Casino in Batavia, Aqueduct in Jamaica, Saratoga Casino in Saratoga Springs, Hamburg Casino in Hamburg, Monticello Casino and Raceway in Monticello, Tioga Downs in Nichols, Vernon Downs & Miracle Isle Gaming Resort in Vernon, and Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in Farmington.

New York State Racing & Wagering Board

The New York State Racing and Wagering board also has oversight of charitable gaming, Indian gaming, and racing. As far as horseracing goes, the Racing and Wagering Board seems to provide additional licensing for the thoroughbred and harness races, along with off-track betting regulation at 6 OTB locations around the state: NYC, Catskill, Capital, Nassau, Suffolk, and Western.

New York Charitable Gaming Laws

Charitable gaming oversight includes bingo games, bell jars gambling, raffles, and Las Vegas nights. Licenses are handled by municipal clerks, but fees are remitted to the New York State Comptroller's Audit and Control Division.

Indian Gaming in New York State

New York has a larger number of Native American tribes than many would think, including the Iroquois, Mohawk, Seneca, Shinnecok, Oneida, Cayuga, Tuscarora (the so-called Sixth Nation), Poospatuck, Onondaga, and Tonawanda Band of the Seneca Nation. Groups like the Oneida (who own Turning Stone) helped found the Iroquois Confederacy in upstate New York, tribes which remain pivotal in the continuing Native American tradition in New York State.

Eight Indian casinos exist in six different cities throughout the state of New York. These include the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, the Seneca Gaming and Entertainment Center in Irving, the Seneca Niagara Casino at Niagara Falls, the Seneca Allegany Casino in Salamance and the Seneca Gaming and Entertainment Center (also in Salamanca), Turning Stone Resort in Verona, Resorts World Casino in Jamaica, Three Feather Casino in Hogansburg, Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in Hogansburg, and the Mohawk Bingo Palace in Akwesasne.

New York Casino Cruise Lines

A couple of casino cruise ships. The Opus Casino Cruise leaves the port of New York every day, while the Black Watch of the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines leaves Freeport in Nassau County along the South Shore of Long Island. The Opus has 200 gaming machines, 3 casino table games, 8 poker tables, and a buffet. The Black Watch has a blackjack table and a roulette wheel. No one regulates these games, since they only take place in international waters (three miles offshore). New York City tried to pass regulations in 1997 to create a 5 member board to handle licensing, such as conducting background checks on workers and reviewing new applications from cruise line operators. Then Mayor Giuliani stated these boats used city facilities as justification for the move.

The New York State Lottery

New York State Lottery is one of the biggest lotto operations in the country, while also having one of the most memorable slogans: "Hey, You Never Know". Daily lottery games include the Win 4, Take 5, Pick 10, Quick Draw, and Numbers games. Instant win scratch-off games include tickets in the $1, $2, $3, $5, $10, $20, and $30 categories. Among the jackpot games, New York gamblers can play Sweet Million, Lotto, Powerball, and Mega Millions.

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