Though nearby Atlantic City may be more well-known for its gambling facilities, the state of New York has a collection of gaming spots that has outnumbered New Jersey for decades, currently totaling 28 as the Atlantic City casino industry dwindles into insignificance. While half of these gaming outlets are “racinos,” i.e. horse tracks with slot machine gaming also offered, the other 14 are full-on casinos.
The current state of gambling in New York was not so easily arrived at, as you might guess. From complete intolerance to a massive illegal industry run by gangsters, things used to be pretty crazy in New York gambling…
Population: 19,867,530 (2017 est.)
Gambling Age (Casinos): 18 to 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 28
• If New York City became a state, it would be 12th most populous in the U.S. New York state would drop to eighth-most populous.
• It is said that around 40% of Americans can claim at least once ancestor who arrived at Ellis Island from his/her native country.
• In Buffalo, it is illegal to throw a snowball at someone’s head.
• Perforated toilet paper was invented in Albany in 1871.
From the viewpoint of the 21st century, one may have difficulty imaging New York as the most anti-gambling state in the United States, but this was most assuredly the case in the 1800s. The New York state government made sure the hardline stance was known in *1821*, a good three decades before others would follow suit.
The complete ban on games of chance made more restrictive as new forms of wagering (e.g. lotteries) cropped up in 1864 and ’94. Such bans naturally led to the development of serious organized crime, a history far too storied to delve into detail here; for a tiny teaser, check out the “History of Gaming in New York” section below. Suffice to say that some estimates figure 6,000 gaming operations were taking in $5 million (about $145 million today) per year in New York City alone *by 1850*!
When faced with the Great Depression in the 1930s, New York lawmakers followed suit of many states in the nation to that point and legalized pari-mutuel betting at the state’s horse tracks. As in many other areas, New York began with one of the country’s larest horse racing industries and this continues into the present.
Despite its, let’s say, colorful history with gambling through to the 1950s, once organized crime was cleaned up (or at least massively curtailed), New York state has followed the pattern of most of America: Bingo became legal in 1957, the state lottery started running in ’66, and by the early 90s, the state’s Native American tribes were converting the bingo halls they’d operated into casinos.
In the 21st century, New York has acted as a force against online gambling. In 2009, state authorities seized some $34 million in winnings accrued by players at Poker Stars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. Then-U.S. attorney for New York southern district Preet Bharara then brought a lawsuit against the sites, ultimately leading to “Black Friday” in 2011, when U.S. players were effectively shut off from playing for real money at any poker websites. And in 2015, New York led in cutting off players from the daily fantasy sports betting sites which had grown willy-nilly in the ‘States over the previous 18 months.
Virtually anywhere in the Empire State is within driving distance of a New York casino. Native Americans naturally own and operate New York state’s 14 casinos, with the Seneca chain present with five casinos in five locations: Buffalo, Niagara Falls (now there’s a clever idea for honeymooners), Cuba, Irving and Salamanca.
As for the Big Apple itself, you’ll have to visit the Resorts World Casino at Ozone Park in Queens; though this is a racino, a tweak to New York gambling law in the mid-2010s now allowes this casino to host a full range of electronic table games.
And the best name in New York casinos? It’s gotta be the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona.
Generally, the minimum age for gambling legally in New York casinos is 21. However, a few of the Native American-run casinos are alcohol-free, so one need only be 18 years old to gamble at these.
It’s fair to say that New York has, in its long history, produced hundreds of notable gamblers. In the interests of space, a brief look at three early-years, black-market providers of gambling.
From the 1850s to 70s, the first name in New York gambling – and throughout the U.S. – was Joh Morrissey. The former bare-knuckles boxing champion of America, Morrissey quickly turned to the world of gambling after retiring from boxing in 1858. After 20 years of making money in his (illegal) casinos and winning at high-stakes poker, Morrissey founded a full-on gambling resort in Saratoga Springs which included all the usual amenities plus an opera house and theatre.
After Morrissey left New York City, one Richard A. Canfield came in to run the show. Now known as “America’s first casino king”, Canfield is probably most remembered for having opened the Madison Square Club in 1888.
Canfield later bough Morrissey’s Saratoga Springs resort and oversaw thorough renovations. The Saratoga again became prestigious enough to impress the likes of the Vanderbilts, Grover Cleveland and William Howard Taft. Canfield would eventually return to New York, but blew most of his money playing the stock market before his death in 1914.
Again, the metaphorical baton was passed, this time to one of the United States’ most notorious gamblers of all-time, Arnold Rothstein. By the age of 28, Rothstein had become involved with organized crime so thoroughly that he opened his own gambling house in 1910. Rothstein was soon the prototypical early-20th century mobster, buying cops and politicians while letting Mafiosi made out well. By the end of the decade, he was suspected of involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, but to this day nothing has stuck to link Rothstein to the crooked World Series.
Unfortunately for him, Rothstein died like a mobster, too. In 1928, he was shot thoroughly and fatally in his hotel room in 1928. The suspects were innumerable, though some believe the killing was related to a $320,000 (about $4.5 million today) loss he’d suffered at a poker table in October and refused to pay.
As it stands, “class III gaming” is allowed at Native American-run casinos. Gambling on slot machines, video poker, and simulcast racing is permitted at the state’s race tracks, and a few of these have electronic table games on offer as well. As of autumn 2016, daily fantasy sports betting is again permitted for New York citizens.
Steady growth in the New York casino gambling industry has been seen in the first 1½ decades of the 21st century, so we should expect little more than expansion in this area.
The big question is whether online poker will ever again be allowed in New York. While that other great mover of social law, California, has been gung-ho about the possibilities of intrastate online poker, no budging seems to be happening in New York state courtrooms. However, the speed with which daily fantasy sports betting was illegalized and then re-legalized shows that such laws can change very rapidly in this state. Stay tuned.