New York Poker Laws Snapshot 2019
This year we have seen a series of important developments promising to introduce paradigm-changing shifts in the overall legal context for online poker. Sen. Joseph Addabbo and his Senate Bill 18 has been one of the most honest shot NY has had at passing poker legislation since 2014. Here’s what’s happened so far in New York in relation to poker:
- Senator Joseph Addabbo files a bill that seeks to legalize online poker in the upper chamber;
- The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) publishes a revised Opinion of the Wire Act 2011 division;
- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signs the DoJ’s decision into law, giving 90-day grace period before the new decision applies;
- The NYS Gaming Commission approves MGM Resorts takeover of Empire State Casino and Yonkers Raceway, granting the brand licenses to conduct online poker and sports betting.
Amid slipping New York finances, legalizing online poker can appear as a much-needed palliative to a gaping financial deficit. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has openly discussed the idea of expanding and legalizing the industry, but he and Mr. Addabbo might hit serious opposition in the face of Speaker Carl Heastie.
Reading New York Poker Through the Years
Examining the history of online poker in New York is most certainly an entertaining and informative read. Sen. Addabbo’s latest bill isn’t just one in a string of many. It’s a well-balanced read of the history, as New York has tried to pass its own online poker legislation since at least 2014.
Following a small victory back in 2011, New York had been emboldened to pursue a further expansion of its iGaming operations, starting with poker.
The first salvo came in 2014, with two bills making an appearance in both the Senate and Assembly. Sen. John Bonacic, a man who would endorse poker for years to come – and still does – introduced the Senate Bill, which, Mr. Bonacic admitted, wasn’t intended so much as a successful piece of legislation, but rather as a way to get people involved.
Mr. Bonacic’s intentions were clear and they were founded, too. At the time, the senator pointed out to the boons that would come with legalizing the industry, including:
- Consumer protection;
- No underage gambling;
- Fighting gambling addiction;
- Generating tax revenue.
Mr. Bonacic called it quits on the senator-ship in 2018, but he still endorses poker and believes legalization is the correct path for the Empire State
In 2015, we met a new champion of poker. Sen. Bonacic is a name in the poker lobby, for a lack of a better word, but so is Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering Chair J. Gary Pretlow himself who re-introduced the bills in 2015.
Mr. Pretlow was just as realistic as his fellow poker aficionado, Mr. Bonacic, and in 2015 he knew for a fact that online poker had no chance of passing through at that specific time in history, but then 2016 came and spirits were reinvigorated.
In 2016, we saw a lot more in the way of fresh and promising developments. It was a year that would tap into the momentum built over the two years before. Sen. Bonacic and Assemblyman Pretlow decided to push two separate bills, again in the Senate and Assembly.
The bills were based on the previously failed pieces of legislation, but they were tailored to answer all questions that lawmakers from all sides of the political spectrum would have, including addressing their skepticism about taxation, problem gambling, and associated negative effects.
The 2016 attempt to legalize online poker was spirited and determined. The Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee managed to clear Sen. Bonacic’s bill with 9 votes in favor and none against it.
This marked a pivotal change in lawmakers’ attitudes towards the notion of legalizing online poker. Understandably, the Committee was Mr. Bonacic’s stomping ground, and the true test would come later on.
Next on the menu was the Senate Finance Committee – a choke point for most gambling bills around the United States. The Senate, though, cleared the bill and it was up to the Senate to decide what would become of the bill. Surprisingly, the Senate also supported the bill, making it the first piece of legislation to actually jump through all legal hoops and make it through to the end, with a 53-9 vote in favor.
The onus then lied on the Assemblymen to make it possible for the bill to be sent to the Governor’s office for a much-needed final signing. Quite surprisingly, though, Mr. Pretlow announced that the bill would not be progressing through the Assembly for lack of adequate support.
Some ventured to criticize Mr. Pretlow that he hadn’t tried hard enough to garner the necessary support to see the bill pushed through.
In 2017, Mr. Pretlow and Mr. Bonacic chose to pursue a similar course of action. They re-introduced the bills and re-started the efforts. Once again, the bills enjoyed a successful passage, and Mr. Pretlow ventured to say that online poker was bound to pass that year.
The bills cleared the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee and the Senate floor, but it wouldn’t matter, because the Empire State’s lawmakers were already caught up in several other undertakings, including the mayoral involvement in NYC schools.
The following year culminated in no great progress either. 2018 will be remembered as a nondescript year for poker, although some buzz and excitement were whipped up towards the end, when rumors began to seep through that a new bill was coming to NY.
New York Gambling Laws
New York state law defines gambling as “when one stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under their control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that they will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome”
In other words, any games involving even the smallest element of chance is by definition illegal gambling. So, unless a gambling game is legalized, it is illegal.
The biggest legal gambling advancement arrived in 2013, in the form of a constitutional amendment to license commercial casinos, authorizing as many as 7 full-scale casinos, specifically for the purpose of promoting job growth in economically distressed upstate regions.
On April 15th 2011, New York lead the crack-down against illegal online gambling, which was later known as Black Friday, bringing the largest online casinos and poker sites in the US to their knees. Since then, there are no state-regulated gambling options in New York.
This, however, does not mean there are no legal online gambling options for the residents of this state; it only means that the state does not issue any sort of licenses for online gambling operators.
Online gambling is legal for residents of New York as long as you play at licensed offshore online gambling sites.
The New Sports Betting Regulations
The sports betting climate has changed very quickly in the past few months. At the beginning of 2019, NY approved an interim sports betting legislation which is open to a 60-day debate before it can be applied.
As a result, should everything go according to plan, several properties will be hosting the state’s expanded sports betting activities. All four licensed upstate casinos have found established iGaming and betting companies to support them in their new forays, including:
- Del Lago and DraftKings Sportsbook
- Tioga Downs and FanDuel Sportsbook
- Resorts World Catskills and bet365
- Rivers and Rush Street Interactive
DraftKings recently struck up an important partnership with one of the pioneers of online poker in the United States, Caesars Entertainment. The new deal focuses on expanding DraftKings footprint out of New Jersey, where the sportsbook has dominated the competition, generating the bulk of all sports handle and associated revenue.
The Online Poker Industry in NY, If Regulated
There have been quite few suggestions about what an online poker industry might look in NY. After all, the state has been trying to pass legislation for half a decade now, and some of those proposals have stuck. As a result, the current rules would most likely be something similar to:
- The legal gaming age would be 21
- Player funds would need to be held in separate accounts so that in the event of a bankruptcy, a casino would be able to pay players their due
- Around 10 properties would be awarded licensees
- The activity would be regulated by the NYS Gaming Commission
- Licenses would cost $10 million and be granted for a 10-year period
This is hypothetical, but it’s based on information collated from draft bills submitted to the state’s lawmakers so far and it creates a reliable read of the industry as is.
Will DoJ’s Opinion Be Felt in NYS?
The simple answer is maybe. As things stands, we might change that to – definitely. There has been a lot of to and fro in legalizing the NYS poker industry, and now, the reversal of the Wire Act Opinion of 2011 is a blow to the future of online poker.
Basically, the Wire Act was first interpreted to apply to all forms of online gambling, but that perception evolved and the Act’s rulings then only applied to sports betting. The Wire Act prohibits certain types of business as well as exchanging financial transactions across state-borders done for the purposes of any form of betting or gambling. This was then changed to read:
Interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.
The ruling came in September 2011, with the U.S. Department of Justice ruling in a case lodged by New York and Illinois seeking to expand their online lotteries.
How the Latest Decision Affects New York Poker’s Prospects?
By directly banning any sort of online transaction across the state’s border. Now, it can be argued that you don’t need to leave the state to play poker and this is true.
However, the Wire Act in its more restrictive reading, also states that the prohibitions are not limited to sports contests only. In other words, any online gambling activity can fall under the legal barraging of the DoJ.
Some states have taken the fight to the enemy, with NJ, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire threatening lawsuits, and NH actually lodging a handful. Meanwhile, the uncertainty around the future of the Wire act can affect the prospects of NYS to legalize its online poke.
Are There Any New York Poker Tournaments?
As of this moment, you cannot find websites based in the state that run poker tournaments in New Yok. However, there are several offshore websites. One of those trusted operators was founded in New York before it had to relocate.
In essence, you can play at New York-facing websites that would allow you to have your pick of poker tournament options. It’s not illegal to participate in such websites, but the operators themselves might at some point be considered “bad actors” and cut off from the state if the industry is legalized.
This, however, is a very unlikely scenario given the overall leniency so far. One thing you mustn’t do, though, is participate in any of the underground poker clubs that run in New York. Law enforcement take a particular issue with the operators and participants in such enterprises.
Avoid the Scam Artists
If you have heard of the “New York Poker King”, you are probably aware that some people have seen an opportunity to turn a profit by collecting money from people under false pretense. NYPK is not worth talking about any longer in a serious article about NYS poker, but he perfectly captures the risks that an unregulated industry poses to everyday poker fans.
Online Poker Rooms in New York
Poker is as popular in New York as it is in any other state. This means there is a huge poker player base, most of who would love access to online poker.
Although the federal government has made it more difficult for online poker sites to offer games to New York residents, it is not impossible, or illegal, for New Yorkers to find offshore online poker rooms. In fact, to save you time, we have listed our top-ranked favourite play money poker sites right here on this page!
Will New York Regulate Online Poker?
You don’t hear much about online gambling plans coming out of Albany, but that doesn’t mean work isn’t underway. The current New York government has shown little opposition to gambling expansion, and poker is especially popular in the Empire State. It would be very surprising if New Jersey and other states came online and New York did not quickly follow.
With that said, New York is obviously behind states like New Jersey insomuch that no bill has been passed and a coalition of support for regulation of online gambling has only now emerged publicly.