In 2013, New Yorkers approved a referendum that would allow up to four new upstate casinos to be built. The expansion would nearly double the number of casinos in the state, adding four commercial casinos to the five tribal casinos in New York.
Tioga Downs, now open
On Friday, Tioga Downs Casino, located in Nichols, became the first of the new casinos to open its doors. The casino floor will feature close to a thousand slot machines, as well as a modest assortment of 33 table games, ranging from poker to blackjack.
Tioga Downs is owned by Jeffrey Gural, who also owns the Vernon Downs in Vernon, NY, and the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (It’s worth noting that Meadowlands was a likely landing spot for a casino had New Jersey voters approved a ballot referendum to expand casino gambling beyond Atlantic City in November. The measure was soundly defeated.)
The other three New York casinos expected to open in 2017 are:
- Montreign Resort Casino in Sullivan County in the Catskills
- Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady
- del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County in the Finger Lakes.
Impact on online gambling legislation?
With the casinos beginning to open, the New York Assembly may shift more attention toward online gambling. That’s an issue that many New York lawmakers have avoided by arguing the state shouldn’t be dealing with multiple forms of gambling expansion at the same time.
As Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow stated at iGNA in April 2016:
“We just licensed four land-based casinos and none of them have opened yet. And when the online poker proposal came up, I had stated originally that I wouldn’t be really pushing to have this vote online until at least the land-based casinos got up and running — unless I had assurances from all four of the licensees that they would ether a. be a part of it or b. didn’t have any issues with it.
I have gotten an assurance from three and the fourth one right now is saying that they may not be interested in being involved with it.”
However, the need to wait until the land-based casinos were open for business may have been a red herring.
Does iGaming need to wait?
Despite these pronouncements, the legislature, with Pretlow ironically leading the charge, did see fit to legalize daily fantasy sports in 2016. Additionally, a bill that would have legalized online poker in New York was passed by the Senate in 2016, before it was abandoned in the Assembly.
“When you’re gambling, there’s a bet, and if you change the bet the odds change based on who is betting. That’s gambling. In DFS, you pay an entry fee — $5 or $10, or whatever — and you’re locked in. You can’t change it. Even though the house takes a percentage of the overall pool, whatever is in the prize pool is the prize. You know what the prize is before you get in it.
“In poker, you’re betting and you’re changing the bet by raising. That’s gambling. In my legislative finding, I found DFS is not gambling. I can’t find that poker is not gambling.”
Further confirming the red herring status of land-based casinos, Pretlow staked out yet another position in August. He told me the reason the Assembly chose not to act on the online poker bill passed by the Senate was a fear of cheating.
The opening of the casinos won’t hurt online poker’s chances, but it may not provide the boost for which some supporters are hoping.