There’s a long and storied history of gambling in the State of New York. However, it’s clear the state’s gaming industry, which now includes racetracks, Native American casinos, Racinos and commercial casino properties, did not take shape overnight.
In fact, New York lawmakers have always taken a slow and methodical, step-by-step approach to gambling inside state borders.
So, when the State Assembly’s Chairman of the Committee on Racing and Wagering, Westchester Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, told the press earlier this month he expected online poker legislation to take “baby steps” towards passing in the state, crawling before it walks, it came as no surprise.
The state ushered in the first form of legal gambling in 1940, passing laws to allow horse racing facilities to operate pari-mutuel wagering operations. It took 30 years before the state allowed these same players to take bets on simulcast races and open up off-track betting parlors. This measure was taken to combat a budget deficit and slow down New York City bookies, who had been taking illegal off-track bets for decades.
The public’s interest in horse racing waned in the 1970s and 1980s, and by the start of the 1990s, New York legislators were forced to begin dealing with a new kind of gambling: Casinos on Native American land.
The Federal Government passed The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, setting up a jurisdictional framework to govern Native American gaming operations. Ultimately, Native American groups around the country could own and operate full-service casino properties on their own sovereign land and it was up to the states to strike a deal with them, if they wanted a piece of the pie.
New York State struck it’s first Native American gaming compact with the Oneida Indian Nation as they opened up the first brick and mortar casino on New York in 1993: The Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona.
It took another decade before other New York area Native American tribes started doing the same.
The state’s racetracks found it impossible to compete. By 2000, they began lobbying to bring Video Lottery Terminals to racetrack properties. This became the next step in New York’s gaming history when lawmakers approved and the Saratoga Raceway became the first to offer VLTs in 2004. These New York State Lottery slot machines spread to properties around the state, turning racetracks into Racinos.
Within a few years, a number of the properties successfully lobbied to turn some of their VLTs in Electronic Table Games. State legislators gave the Racinos this concession to allow them to compete in a casino industry that was becoming increasingly full-service oriented.
The next logical step would be to allow full-service casino operations inside the state’s borders and that’s exactly where New York lawmakers went next.
In 2013, New York voters supported a constitutional amendment that authorized the issue of three commercial gaming licenses. A year later, licenses were granted to the del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo, Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady, and the Montreign Resort and Casino in the Catskills.
The Tioga Downs Racino was unsuccessful in its bid for a license, but campaigned to re-open the bidding process and was given a full gaming license that same year.
The new Tioga Downs Casino opened its doors in December 2016. The del Lago Resort & Casino came next, opening on February 1, 2017, and Rivers Casino and Resort in Schenectady, NY opened up a week later. The Montreign Resort and Casino will open in the Catskills in the Spring of next year.
The step-by-step approach continues even now, as New York State begins to eye iGaming.
As Pretlow has explained it, the first step is online poker, which the state is considering a skill game in two identical bills that seek to legalize and regulate it, currently on the floor of the State Senate and Assembly.
The next step may be poker in card rooms and other gaming facilities across the state. It also could be legal and regulated online casinos, where it appears New York lawmakers are ultimately headed, step by step.