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New York has tried (and failed) to completely ban online poker within its borders. As long as free speech advocates have their way, it looks like the state won't be able to tamper with internet freedom in the Empire State for a long time.
As is the case in many states in the US, it depends who you ask. New York law states basically that games of chance are illegal. Traditionally, New York has held online poker to be in this category. Others would disagree, stating that poker is a game of skill (decided so by a New York court). In any case, no one has ever been charged, nor should they really be worried about being charged, with playing on online poker sites in New York.
New York has had an unpredictable past with gambling. While early settlers were fond of gambling and enjoyed their gambling halls and saloons, New York decided to ban gambling and lotteries, except those provided by the state, in 1821 in its Second Constitution. And all lotteries were then banned in 1964. The Constitution was modified in 1939 to allow pari-mutuel horse betting, and bingo was legalized in 1957. Lottery tickets were reexamined and legalized in 1966, and charitable games of chance were allowed in a 1975 amendment. As for racing, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board became its authority in 1973, which merged with the old State Racing Commission. The only types of casinos to be authorized in New York were Class III Indian casinos, which happened in 1993. Said casinos were allowed to offer all games of chance, including poker and slot machines, and the first casino was opened by the Oneida Tribe later that year.
Q. What was the case that brought poker before a judge as a game of chance or skill?
A. Lawrence DiCristina hosted a poker game in a warehouse on Staten Island and collected five percent of each night's $300-per-player buy-ins as rake to cover the cost of hosting the game. He was arrested in 2011 and charged with operating an illegal gambling business. He was then found guilty in July, but he asked for a trial based on the wording of his verdict that poker was a game of chance under New York law. That case was heard by Judge Weinstein in the U.S. District Court and the guilty verdict overturned based on the definition of poker, which he ruled should have been a game of skill and not gambling.
Q. Why is the gambling age lower than in the rest of the United States?
A. Gambling age is not something controlled or regulated by federal law, and each state makes its own laws regarding gambling. This allows each state to decide at what age players should be trusted to gamble responsibly.
Q. Will New York allow legal online poker sites to be offered alongside the state lottery online?
A. This remains to be seen. The state is cautious about allowing lottery tickets to be purchased online, thus its lack of implementation many months after the Department of Justice ruling. Once the lottery is taken to the Internet, the viability of legal online poker sites for New York will likely be examined and may be brought before the state legislature.
Q. Do Indian casinos have concerns about the possibility of online gambling?
A. They do. The Seneca tribe has been especially vocal about possible federal legislation and testified before Congress regarding pending bills. On the state level, the tribes likely have the same concerns, which revolve around the fact that online gambling will detract from their customer base. However, if New York online poker is the only game to in question, the opposition may be more apt to work with the state government on a solution.
The issues that have arisen with New York in recent years mainly revolve around the option of authorizing land-based casinos off Indian lands and whether or not certain forms of gambling are games of chance or skill. The latter has been in the news more often because of court cases. New York law defines contests of chance as those 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." A recent case in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, however, brought about an August 2012 decision that poker is a game of skill, not gambling as stated under the Illegal Gambling Business Act. Though the case sets new precedent, Judge Weinstein's decision could be overturned on appeal, and New York's laws still state that poker is illegal. But the court ruling may play a role in future New York online poker discussions.
As for New York online legal poker sites, it has been discussed, most recently in connection with a 2011 decision by the Department of Justice regarding the Wire Act. The statement was in regard to an inquiry by New York and Illinois regarding online lotteries and their legality or lack thereof under the Wire Act, and the DOJ decided that the Wire Act does not apply. Therefore, the Wire Act does not apply to any form of online gambling, including online poker in New York or any other state. New York continues to toy with the idea of online gambling, though no concrete legislation has been put forward as of August 2012. To contact your legislator regarding this or any other issue, click here: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/.
According to the New York Racing and Wagering Board, nine casinos operate in the state and employ more than 5,000 people. New York takes nearly $600 million per year in gaming tax revenue, which is put toward education needs of the state.
Of the casinos in New York, only a few have been tapped to host national or international poker tournaments. Turning Stone is the most well-known of them, having hosted several poker tournaments, as well as allowing players to gamble at the age of 18. Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel has also been home to several major live poker events.