New York has been a hotbed of discussion in regards to the legalities of online poker. It was New York’s Southern District Court that legally assaulted players of the top online poker sites in the world in 2009, and unsealed indictments against those sites on April 15, 2011 on what became the Black Friday of Online Poker. Because the Empire State has been involved in some of the biggest court cases among the online poker industry, the majority of internet card gaming sites have withdrawn from the territory, refusing to accept New Yorkers despite the fact that many of them continue to accept players from most other US states.
With offshore poker rooms taking such an adamant stance against New York, one would naturally assume that online poker is illegal there. But is that really the case? If we take a look at the state constitution, there is no direct mention of “internet” or “online” gambling being illegal. That alone doesn’t make the activity legal, but it does open the law to interpretation.
Legality of Online Poker in New York
Oddly enough, despite the state’s long-lasting anti-online-gambling position, New York isn’t nearly as opposed to internet wagering as it may appear. In fact, online pari-mutuel betting has been legal for more than a decade. Upstate New York is thriving with tribal casinos and racinos, and there’s no question as to the need for more tax dollars coming into the government’s coffers. With that in mind, legislators have actually has taken great strides towards the expansion of New York’s existing land-based gambling market, as well as internet wagering.
Earlier this year, state legislators expressed an interest in legalizing online poker and other skill games. But again, just because the state isn’t currently regulating online poker does not mean that it’s currently illegal to play. To answer that question, we must evaluate the existing laws. However, our interpretation of New York’s online poker laws is in no way guaranteed accurate. For a more precise assessment, we recommend contacting a local authority on the matter; preferably one with a masters degree in deciphering legal scripture.
New York Constitution – Gambling
The following passages are taken from the New York Constitution’s Penal Laws regarding gambling. Please note that some text may be condensed to sustain articulacy, but care has been taken so as not to alter the meaning.
Contest of Chance: means any contest, game, gaming scheme or gaming device 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.
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.
Player: means a person who engages in any form of gambling solely as a contestant or bettor, without receiving… any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings, and without otherwise rendering any material assistance to the establishment, conduct or operation of the particular gambling activity…
Gambling Device: means any device, machine, paraphernalia or equipment which is used or usable in the playing phases of any gambling activity, whether such activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine… [excludes lottery tickets and policy slips.]
Unlawful: means not specifically authorized by law.
Authorized Gaming Operator: means an enterprise or business entity authorized by state or federal law to operate casino or video lottery gaming.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in New York?
Unfortunately, when you put all of these definitions together, they all point to the same answer – yes, online poker is illegal in New York. The ‘poker is a skill game’ argument is nullified by the fact that a contest of chance may include a degree of skill, and any form of gambling that is not specifically authorized by the state of New York is considered illegal. Therefore, if online poker is not specifically legal, it is, by default, illegal.
Arguing that online poker sites located offshore are not under the jurisdiction of New York is not going to get you anywhere, either. If a computer, laptop, mobile device or tablet is used to access said poker site, it could easily be misconstrued as a gambling device; “anything used or usable in playing the phases of any gambling activity”. And again, if the gambling device is not authorized, its use is inherently prohibited.
Is New York working to regulate online poker?
There are movements ongoing to legalize and regulate online poker in New York. In March of this year, legislators added legalization and regulation of online poker to the 2013-14 state budget proposal, but it was stricken from the measure before receiving the signature of Gov. Cuomo, who announced the early release of the new budget plan.
The topic of online poker remains one of great debate in New York, and all hands are pointing to regulation in the future. However, it appears that law makers in New York would prefer to wait until there is a static framework for online poker, which would require regulation on a federal level. The most recent federal bill is Rep. Joe Barton’s Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013, but with more pressing matters to attend to, no one expects it to be addressed until 2014, which essentially means New York won’t likely tackle the issue of online poker legislation until then, either.