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New York is arguably the Holy Grail state for online poker in the US. With a population of nearly 20 million and a high average income, it would be by far the most lucrative US market to date for operators and professional players alike.
There’s been lots of talk about New York legalizing online poker and other forms of internet gambling over the years. None of those efforts have yet panned out, however. Part of that is simply that the stakes are so high that any proposed legislation gets debated to death. Compounding that in recent years is the fact that legislators’ attention has been focused on sports betting instead.
That said, the NY legislature has now approved mobile sports betting. The implementation may still cause problems, but legislators should nonetheless have more time now to pay attention to other things, like online poker. Here, you’ll find all the info you need about the online poker legalization effort in New York, as well as some alternatives you can try in the meantime.
Real money online poker isn’t legal in New York at this time. However, if you live downstate and want to play online legally, you have some options. One is that you can always pop across the border to play online poker in New Jersey, where it’s been legal since 2013.
Fortunately, you only have to be physically in the state to actually play. You can download any of the apps below from New York, create an account, verify your identity and even make a deposit. That way, you’ll be ready to start playing right away once you’re in New Jersey.
It’s not quite as convenient as playing from your own home, but if you’re one of the many New Yorkers who visits the Garden State regularly anyway, it can be an added benefit to making the trip.
If you don’t want to travel, there’s another way to play poker online from within New York that’s also perfectly legal, and still gives you the chance to win real cash prizes.
It’s what’s called the “sweepstakes model,” and it exists for both online casino and online poker. There’s only one such site offering poker, however, and its name is Global Poker.
What is sweepstakes poker? Simply put, it’s a poker product designed such that it falls under federal sweepstakes law, rather than state-level gambling laws. Global Poker accomplishes that with a special system of two virtual currencies: Gold Coins and Sweeps Coins.
Both have no cash value, but Sweeps Coins can be redeemed for cash prizes at a fixed rate of $1 per coin. The Gold Coins are just for fun, like play money chips on a social poker site.
You can’t deposit money to the site, but you can buy Gold Coins. Conveniently, doing so gets you free Sweeps Coins at the same ratio of 1 coin per $1 used to purchase Gold Coins. Additionally, you can write a formal request to the site for free Sweeps Coins, which they will honor if you follow their instructions carefully. In this way, the site fulfills both the “no cash value” and “no purchase necessary” clauses needed to qualify as a sweepstakes rather than a form of gambling.
Once you have coins in your account, you can use either currency to play poker. You’ll find cash games, sit-and-goes and scheduled tournaments, just like you would at any poker site. Again, if you’re playing with Gold Coins, it’s effectively a play money experience. Play with your Sweeps Coins, however, and you can attempt to win more of them, and eventually to redeem them for prizes, potentially worth more than you spent buying your Gold Coins.
The sweepstakes model is legal by default in all US states, because it complies with federal law. Of the 50 states, only Washington has outlawed such sites, meaning that Global Poker is legal in New York and the other 48 states (plus D.C.).
New York’s 2021 legislative session adjourned on June 10. No online poker bill was introduced this year, so even if legislators call a special session, it doesn’t look like 2021 will be the year we see a online poker legalized.
There is also still the implementation of mobile sports betting to take care of. Lawmakers are rarely interested in legalizing additional forms of gambling until they’ve seen the latest one up and running smoothly.
How much longer we have to wait depends a lot on whether New York wants to legalize online poker on its own, or as part of a broader iGaming bill covering online casino as well. The latter would require much more political capital and therefore take longer. Poker alone might come faster, but it’s also unprecedented in the US. Nevada is the only state with legal online poker but no online casinos, but its legislature legalized both at once; it was rather a regulatory decision not to authorize NV online casinos immediately.
While it’s possible a bill could come in 2022, New York legislative sessions actually span two years, starting in odd-numbered years. Thus, a bill introduced in 2023 would remain active in 2024, giving lawmakers twice as much time as one introduced in 2022. It’s also likely that multi-state poker will have expanded to states like Michigan and Pennsylvania by then, making it a more appealing product for other states including New York.
The answer, then, is “no one knows,” but the next best chance is probably the 2023-2024 session. Once a bill passes, it could take up to a year or a little more for the first sites to launch. Joining the interstate compact could then take a similar amount of time.
There have been a few attempts to legalize online poker in New York, most recently in 2019. None of these have yet succeeded, yet the state remains a serious contender to do so in future.
Legalization could make the Empire State the eighth state to legalize online poker. Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania all have an active market for it. Connecticut and West Virginia have laws passed that would make it possible, but no sites operating at the moment.
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Here’s the timeline of what progress – or lack thereof – New York’s legislators have made towards legalizing online poker in the state thus far:
There has been no online poker bill in NY in 2021, not even a reintroduction of Sen. Addabbo Jr.’s bill. However, there has been some progress in terms of online gambling more generally, thanks to the inclusion of provisions for mobile sports betting in the budget bill.
Though the specifics of those provisions have received ample criticism, it’s a start of sorts. Though the market might not prove to be as successful as others with better crafted policies, it should at least persuade New Yorkers that the sky doesn’t fall when you let people gamble on their phones.
Meanwhile, if things do pan out well for online sports betting, then it could provide a convenient framework for online poker to emulate. Either way, it should make things at least a little easier for Sen. Addabbo Jr. and other similarly minded legislators in future years.
Sen. Addabbo Jr.’s legislation made a reappearance in January. The bill’s chances weren’t good to begin with, however, as it had failed to make any progress in 2019 and there were no changes in its substance for 2020.
Any faint hope the bill had was quickly extinguished when COVID-19 made its way to American shores in the spring. The resulting change in priorities effectively killed the bill, as well as most other gambling-related legislation in New York and elsewhere.
The silver lining to that, however, is that the havoc the pandemic wreaked on retail gaming revenues around the country has helped persuade many lawmakers of the importance of having an online option. Ultimately, it may prove to have been a boon to NY online poker’s chances in future years.
New York’s legislature made no effort to push online poker in 2019.
Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. and Assemblyman Gary Pretylow both reintroduced companion online poker bills (S 18 and A 4924). But the bills weren’t advanced out of committee before the legislature adjourned in June.
The dream of online poker died yet again in 2018, when the legislature failed to act on pair of active bills. A key lawmaker in the Assembly said he’d prioritize sports betting going forward.
Meanwhile, we were left to diagnose what went wrong yet again as neighboring Pennsylvania prepared to launch its own industry. A late-2018 court ruling regarding fantasy sports seems to dim the prospects in NY even further.
Pretlow seemed more eager to push things in the Assembly, but that optimism didn’t turn into action.
We saw real progress made on online poker in 2016.
It started off with some forward momentum via committee hearings. Then, Bonacic managed to get his iPoker bill through the Senate with a lopsided vote of 53-5 late in the legislative session.
However, Pretlow said the issue didn’t have support in his chamber, and the bill died on the vine. In the wake of that, Pretlow cited a variety of concerns, including whether poker is a “game of skill” and the issues of security and cheating at sites.
Daily fantasy sports was legalized and regulated by the government in 2016.
In May of 2015 Bonacic reintroduced his online poker bill, S 5302, but once again the legislature didn’t act on it, and entering 2016, online poker had never even warranted a hearing.
The year before, in March of 2014, a bill seeking to legalize online poker, S 6913, was introduced by Bonacic, who would become online poker’s biggest cheerleader in New York in the years to come. Several months later, in July of 2014, Pretlow introduced a similar online poker bill in the State Assembly.
Recognizing the mood in the legislature, Bonacic called his 2014 bill a conversation starter, and stated that he never intended to make a serious push for online poker expansion in 2014.
The biggest hurdle online poker had to overcome in the New York legislature was the attitude voiced by several key politicians that online legislation needed to wait until the state completed its current gaming expansion project, four new brick-and-mortar casinos.
Three of those casinos are now up and running, with Rivers Casino taking its first bet in February 2017, and del Lago in January 2017. Tioga Downs officially expanded into a casino in December 2016.
Online poker was first broached in 2013, as a potential funding source for the state’s budget; an idea that never gained any traction.