New York State has been a hotbed of poker for decades with a storied underground scene made famous, in part, in the movie Rounders. The Mayfair Club was the most well-known poker club, though it started as a backgammon club and transitioned to chess and poker. From there, players like Erik Seidel, Stu Ungar, Howard Lederer, Mickey Appleman, and Dan Harrington emerged with skills that took them to poker tournaments around the world. The legendary early days of poker were a product of New York underground games.
Obviously, live poker moved from backrooms and basements to casinos in the Empire State, as well as to casinos and cardrooms in nearby states. But what about online poker in NY?
This review will look at the state of real-money online poker in New York, answering your questions about poker online in New York. People often ask how to play poker from New York and when the state will finally pass legislation to legalize and regulate online sites. Those are valid questions, considering New York lawmakers have been introducing bills and proposals for more than a decade with no success. And that leaves only a few options for NY residents to find online poker games.
This page will look at the current state of online poker in New York and efforts to change it. You will also find answers to some questions about when New Yorkers can expect to be online, what options they have now, and what options they may have when the laws finally do change.
New York is known for its poker history but not because of its many casinos and poker rooms. It is known for its underground games, where some of poker’s greatest players cut their teeth in cash games.
The basement of the Mayfair Club is one of the most legendary breeding grounds for the poker players of the 2000s. People with exceptional game skills and successful business careers as lawyers or stock traders spent their leisure time playing backgammon and chess, and eventually poker. Some of the most famous among them – Erik Seidel, Howard Lederer, Steve Zolotow, Stu Ungar, Dan Harrington, Paul Magriel – emerged from those games to play live poker. They became an integral part of the poker boom.
Mayfair players had little choice to find live poker games when the club shut its doors in 2000. At that time, Mayor Rudy Giuliani carried out a campaign of improving the “quality of life” for New Yorkers by shutting down gambling halls. Players from those clubs had to go deeper underground or make their way to Atlantic City and Las Vegas for live poker.
Back in New York, gamblers could play the lottery or bet on horse racing, but they couldn’t even play poker in a casino until 2013. That was the year that New York amended its laws to allow tribal gaming. It took court cases and negotiations, rulings and amendments to finally bring New York to its 2013 agreement between the Oneida Indian Nation and the state. It was then that Turning Stone, which had been a golf resort and bingo hall since 1993, could transform into a full-fledged casino with a poker room.
In 2013, the voters of New York approved commercial casinos in the state, with up to seven permitted by the constitutional amendment. Over the decade that ensued, casinos like Del Lago in Seneca and Rivers in Schenectady opened with poker rooms. Even so, the games have always been limited due to their locations and lack of space for larger poker events.
In 2023, there are still three commercial casino licenses up for grabs. Governor Kathy Hochul has determined that they may be allocated to places like New York City and Long Island, as other casinos are located in northern New York. Casino operators like MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, and Caesars Entertainment are vying for those licenses.
State Senator Joe Addabbo’s last comment on igaming in 2023 was that he was “not going to pound the drum for it anymore.” He said that his colleagues in the legislature know that the tax revenue is much needed, but they refuse to let go of the repeatedly disproven notion that online gaming would hurt land-based gambling profits.
Analysts feel fairly confident that Addabbo will introduce a new igaming bill in 2024, despite his frustrations in 2023.
A 2024 proposal’s success or failure will depend on several factors:
There are a few ways for New Yorkers to play poker online for real money.
While New Yorkers can’t play real-money online poker from home right now, there are options for players itching to get into an online game. New York’s neighbors, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have legal online poker, as does Michigan, and players do not need to be residents to sign up and play. They need only be located within the state, proven by geolocation technology used by regulated poker sites, to play.
Players in Northern New York now have the option of traveling into Canada to play on ring-fenced poker games online in Ontario. In addition, large online operators like GGPoker and PokerStars operate in most of Canada. The broader Canadian laws regarding igaming remain ambiguous, so many Americans travel north to play on global sites with the largest player pools in the world.
While real-money online poker is still illegal in New York, residents of the Empire State can find online action through the sweepstakes poker model. Operators like Global Poker offer games where players can win tokens which can then be redeemed for prizes.
While social poker sites like Global Poker are one step removed from the direct cash of real-money poker, the game dynamics are the same as online real money poker. The main difference is how the prizes are structured. Moving away from the direct money model allows the operators to offer poker games with real rewards while still staying within the gaming regulations of states like NY.
Subscription poker like Global Poker have been growing in popularity in recent years. More players are finding that it is fairly simple to use the subscription site’s currency and then exchange it when cashing out. The prize pools have been growing, which means there are bigger tournament guarantees and larger series.
While players are still waiting for poker action on the online felt in New York, there is a some on the live felt now. There are casinos with poker rooms, and at least one of them attracts a major mid-majors series.
Live poker in New York and directly adjacent exists currently in:
Turning Stone is now a regular stop on the World Series of Poker Circuit series that travels the United States from August through May. The next stop for the WSOPC at Turning Stone is set for March 14-25, 2024.