The law in New York relating to gambling is summed up pretty briefly in New York General Obligations, Title 4, Section 5-401 (1): “Illegal wagers, bets, and stakes: All wagers, bets or stakes, made to depend on any race, or upon any gaming by lot or chance, or upon any lot, chance, causality, or unknown or contingent event whatever, shall be unlawful.”
So this is pretty broad, and would exclude pretty much any wager, but does it apply to poker? Well that has been the big question, and some have argued that if poker is a game of skill, then it may not.
In a famous case, United States v. DiChristina, Lawrence DiChristina had been found guilty of running an illegal gambling operation by hosting a poker game in a warehouse in Staten Island and collecting a rake for running it. The conviction then became overturned on appeal, where the judge ruled that existing law does not apply to poker because he found that poker is a game of skill and not chance.
This decision later was overturned on further appeal (2). The court in its ruling did not disagree that poker was not a game of chance but of skill, and restored the conviction for other reasons, but in order to be classified as illegal gambling the law only requires that the outcomes be “made to depend upon chance.”
So it depends on how outcome is to be defined, and while long term outcomes may depend upon skill, the outcomes of the bets themselves are certainly dependent upon chance. So the upholding of the conviction seems correct but for different reasons than the finding. However, since the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear this case, the ruling currently stands, and poker is considered to be illegal gambling by the courts.
New York’s Proposed Online Poker Bill
There is a bill currently in the works to regulate online poker in the State of New York, which basically seeks to exclude poker from the existing gambling laws mentioned above, and does so primarily as explicitly defining it as a game of skill (3). An identical bill has also been introduced in the State Assembly.
In spite of the somewhat disappointing level of success in existing regulated poker markets in the U.S., including neighboring New Jersey, there still exists a will to get this show started at some point in the near future. New Jersey in particular getting the jump on New York is a particularly sore spot, as much of the casino traffic in New Jersey comes from New York.
Even so, the focus in New York seems to be more on the brick and mortar casino side of things, and while there is interest in getting an online poker bill passed eventually, there does not currently seem to be any sense of urgency, and it could be a couple of years or even longer before we see anything passed.
Live Poker In New York
There are a total of 8 Class III Indian casinos in the state of New York (4), some of which offer live poker. These casinos are chartered by the state but operate outside the normal framework of state law concerning gambling.
The Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls, NY, Seneca Gaming and Entertainment Irving, in Irving, NY, and the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY, all offer live real money poker.
The New York scene has always been rife with underground poker games, particularly in the New York City area, although as is the case with underground poker games, you have to be in the know in order to gain entry, and law enforcement officials are more than willing to close these games down.
There are plans underway to build as many as seven non Indian casinos in the upstate New York area, as a result of a constitutional amendment passed by state voters in the November 2013 election (5). Whether or not any of these new casinos will offer poker as well remains to be seen.
Online Poker In New York
Given the state of the existing law in the state of New York, and in particular due to the fact that the Black Friday convictions originated in the state, the online poker rooms that are left in the market have for the most part steered well clear of this state.
Among the U.S.-facing poker rooms, both Ignition Poker and Americas Cardroom serve New York residents today. Both sites have top-notch software, as well as bonuses up to $1,000 for new players that sign up and register an account today.
Deciding whether to play online or not really comes down to worrying about the practicality of the matter, and regardless of whether existing law makes online gambling illegal or not, the focus has always been on the operators, and the authorities are not going after online players, so online players in New York continue to play on at this time with no real reason to be concerned.
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