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Gambling Laws and Regulations in New York State

New York gambling law is explicit and about as restrictive as any other state in New England. New York is America’s fourth most-populous state, and the home of New York City, America’s largest and most influential urban area. Most of the state’s gaming laws go back more than a hundred years – no surprise, then, that New Yorkers are heavily-restricted in what sorts of games they can access in most markets.

This page is a result of our study of New York’s gaming regulations. We present evidence (and some opinions) on the legality of various games of chance in the Empire State. We’ve added three links from New York state government websites to enhance your research on the subject of gambling legality.

If you’re looking to gamble online from New York, check out our list of the best New York gambling sites.

The Legal Status of Gambling in New York

New York is home to a number of regulated gambling markets. The state’s lottery is popular and long-lived. Pari-mutuel wagering is practically a state pastime. Tribal gambling and class-II commercial gambling is easily-accessible for most of the state’s millions of citizens. Charitable games are regulated but allowed, and quite popular under liberal legal conditions.

But some areas of state law are not as clear. In order to understand the legality of more modern contests like daily fantasy sports or online gambling in general, we need to understand the spirit of New York’s criminal code and not just the letter of its code of laws.

New York state law defines gambling as “… the risking of something of value on a future outcome” that is beyond the control of influence of the bettor. In order to be illegal gambling, there must be an expectation of something of value “if a certain outcome occurs.” The longer definition is available in Section 225.00(2) of the state constitution.

Since the full definition includes a requirement that a person be wagering on a “contest of chance,” it’s nice that the phrase contest of chance is defined further down in the law. A game is a contest of chance if “… the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants may also be a factor therein.”

We added some emphasis there to showcase that basically any game that involves even the slightest chance element is considered illegal gambling. In other words, there is no consideration for skill involved in a game. Unless New York legislators legalize a gambling game, it is illegal.

As for the state’s legal gaming options, the most popular is the New York Lottery. More New Yorkers buy lottery tickets than citizens of any state, with greater than 92% participation, according to figures released by the state each summer. New York’s lottery is the second-oldest in the country, active since the late 1960s.

The second most-popular legal gamble for New Yorkers is the state’s twenty tribal facilities. Some of these are tiny racinos, with a few slot and video poker games alongside a simulcast betting window. Still others are massive Vegas-style resorts with giant gaming floors, live dealer tables, and thousands of slot and video poker titles.

Charitable gambling laws in the state are such that operators of charitable games are allowed to offer raffles, bingo, and select casino-style games that benefit a rotating schedule of non-profit groups. This has led to a local industry specializing in the operation of charity events in static locations. Charitable laws are complex, and if you want to operate one legally you’ll need a specific permit from the city.

Social gambling is not allowed in New York, by law. A single line was added to existing gaming laws in the 1990s that explicitly outlawed the practice of hosting private games of chance and skill in a home or business, even with a legitimate relationship between all players or in cases where a game without house odds is played and the host isn’t compensated at all. New York has some of the toughest anti-private gambling laws in the country.

Is Online Gambling Legal in New York?

In our opinion, online gambling is not legal in New York. We’re not lawyers, but we are familiar with American gambling law at both the state and federal levels, and we think we can back up our opinion.

First, some forms of online gambling appear to be illegal regardless of what state you’re in when you place the bet. The Department of Justice recently shut down New Jersey’s attempt to legalize sports betting, a move they made after a majority of citizens voted in favor of the measure. Clearly, the federal government doesn’t want Americans betting on sports, online or otherwise.

But we found an existing rule in New York’s criminal code that could easily be applied to the practice of betting on the Internet. Basically, it says that “… any device, machine, paraphernalia or equipment which is used or usable in the playing phases of any gambling activity” not specifically legal under state law is an illegal gambling device. As far as we can tell, this definition would include smart phones, laptops, tablets, and any other Web-capable gadget used to place an online bet. Until New York specifically allows online gambling in some regulated format, it’s not legal.

But we want to be quick to point out that no criminal penalties for the act of illegal gambling are written into the state’s penal code. You may be breaking a law by playing at an online casino, but there is no penalty written into the law for people charged with such an act. That’s because all the penalties for breaking gaming regulations in New York State are leveled at operators of illegal games of chance and skill. The state isn’t interested in arresting individuals who place online wagers; instead, they want to go after the people operating illegal games.

A curious fact of New York state law penalizes businesses depending on the number and amount of wagers they accept per day. It’s not a bad way to penalize a rogue gambling operator, it’s just unusual. If your illegal operation takes in an average of at least five bets a day totaling $5,000 or more, your charges get bumped up from stiff misdemeanors to mid-range felonies. The state allows for three further rungs above that, each with a tougher penalty.

Further Reading on New York Gambling Law

New York State Gaming Commission – The homepage of the New York State Gaming Commission includes links to useful resources like an FAQ, the websites of various state regulatory and enforcement agencies, and news and notes on amendments to state gambling law.

“Shipboard Gambling” from the Business Integrity Commission – Notes on the abandoned practice of “shipboard gambling,” whereby cruise ships docked in New York City would travel out beyond New York waters and provide games of chance and skill. New laws in 1997 essentially outlawed the practice without explicitly outlawing it. Talks of bringing back these so-called “cruises to nowhere” have ignited new interest in state gaming regulations.

New York Charitable Gaming Law – Charitable gambling is a huge industry in New York thanks to liberal regulations and limited enforcement. This page outlines the laws that govern the legal practice of fundraising for charity with games of chance and skill.

Conclusion

New York’s gambling market is one of very few US markets experiencing steady growth, positive revenue, and new construction. As Atlantic City falls apart, and with Las Vegas rebranding itself as a family vacation spot, American gaming is struggling a bit, even amid news of an economic recovery.

What’s different about New York?

Why is this state producing massive revenue while states like New Jersey can’t seem to make gaming work?

New York has a robust economy, dependent on multiple sectors for solvency. Tourism is at an all-time high in the state, as are manufacturing and agriculture. Increased access to regulated gambling, combined with a high standard of living, hit the state at just the right time. Now that New Yorkers have a little extra money to spend, they’re doing so at local gambling venues more often than ever before.