There currently are no laws on the New York legislative books dealing with online poker. The state constitutional prohibition against gambling remains a formidable obstacle that must be overcome before any law could be enacted to legalize and regulate online poker.
As with other states, whether or not online poker is currently illegal in New York depends on where online poker bets are deemed to be made – at the point of the player in his or her home, or at the point of the server. Certainly the servers could not be located within the state. That would violate several sections of the Penal Law. But if servers were located outside the state, theoretically bets would be deemed made outside the state and thus outside the reach of New York jurisdiction.
In 2014 State Senator John Bonacic introduced a bill into the legislature to legalize online gambling, but Bonacic’s efforts are little more than a feeling out process, as the Senator himself stated. A similar bill was introduced in the Assembly by J. Gary Pretlow.
The New York State Constitution (Art. I, §9) prohibits all forms of gambling except state-operated lotteries and pari-mutuel betting on horse races. The question then becomes whether poker is considered “gambling” under New York law. New York Penal Law Section 225.00(2) defines “gambling” as risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under your control or influence. That’s not the most helpful of definitions. Generally, New York courts have found therefore to be sufficient “chance” in poker for it to fall under the state definition of gambling.
In practice, there’s no question that poker is illegal. New York City is home to a number of underground poker rooms which are repeatedly the subject of raids by the vice squad of the NYPD. No one has ever successfully challenged an arrest or prosecution resulting from one of those raids.
There are a few tribal casinos that operate in the state, however, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. One such casino, Turning Stone, near Syracuse, has a sizable poker room.
During the 2011-12 session of the state legislature, the legislature voted to amend the gaming provisions of the state constitution to allow a limited number of casinos in the state. The amendment process requires the legislature to carry out a second vote in the 2013-14 session, and then put the decision to the people via referendum.
The referendum has passed and New York is now getting ready to expand their land-based gaming options.
Home games are probably OK under New York law. Although they would fall under the state constitutional prohibition on gambling, no sections of the New York Penal Code criminalize social games at which nobody makes a profit from offering the game.