The complete guide to poker in Finger Lakes, New York

Finger Lakes, located in beautiful Central New York, has a lot of history and a lot of choices when it comes to gambling in general and poker in particular. The region is home to a number of Native American casinos designed to tempt visitors to the region’s wineries and sites of natural beauty through their doors. It’s the region’s history with the race track that has arguably put it on the map for those who like a flutter, however.

Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack is, first and foremost, a thoroughbred horse racing operation and Racino in Farmington. It first opened its doors in the early 1960s and for two decades was a center for racing enthusiasts and those wanting to place a bet. It ran into trouble in the 1980s when New York introduced off-track betting, but in a bid to keep up with the times the facility began showing simulcast racing from elsewhere and opening year-round. The gaming facilities were added in 2004 as part of a multi-million-dollar renovation and the track was rebranded as Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack, hosting some two million visitors every year. It boasts over 1,100 different gaming machines, including video poker.

What are the gambling laws in New York State?

First, though, let’s take a quick look at New York State’s laws surrounding gambling and poker. The state is often thought of as having a tough anti-gambling stance. It was a driving force behind the Black Friday crackdown on online gambling in 2011 and was one of the major players in crystalizing the scope of the Wire Act. In fact, New York was the very first state in the US to constitutionally ban gambling, seeking to shut down underground casinos that were mostly run by the mob.

Things slowly began to liberalize, however. Horse racing was the first form of gambling to be allowed when, in line with many other states, New York introduced para-mutual (or pooled) betting systems at tracks. Simulcast systems showing races from elsewhere in the country were allowed in later and gaming machines followed, turning the tracks into ‘racinos’.

Bingo games became legal in 1957, a lottery followed in 1966 and in 1970 charity gaming was brought in.

For poker and casino fans, however, there was a longer wait. As is the case in other parts of the country, things changed with the introduction of legalized tribal casinos that were allowed to operate top-tier ‘class 3’ games, including slots and table games. There was a boom in casino building and now the state is replete with casinos and poker rooms. Things then changed again in 2013 with legislation that broadens the number of commercial operators allowed to run casinos.

Despite rapid changes in state by state laws on internet gambling across the USA, including in neighboring New Jersey, however, at the time of writing offering online gambling is still banned in New York. In practical terms it seems things are a little greyer for customers, who are unlikely to be prosecuted for accessing gambling sites based outside the state, but nor are they offered legislative protection. The safest way to access poker and casino games, then, is through a land-based casino.

Where can you play poker in Finger Lakes?

There are a number of choices for poker in Finger Lakes, particularly when it comes to tournaments. Some of the bigger venues offering tournaments include the likes of Presque Isle Downs, Seneca Salamanca, Turning Stone, Rivers Mohawk Harbor and Casino Niagara.

It’s worth doing your research in advance, however. The buy-ins for these games can vary significantly, running from around $20.00 on the low end up to $300 or more on the upper end of the spectrum, so if you find yourself being dealt a good poker hand, you could walk away with a tidy sum. Typically, they play Texas Hold ‘Em, but occasionally you might see tournaments that include less popular games like 7 Card Stud or Omaha.

del Lago Casino

Del Lago is one of the bigger casinos to open since the law changed to allow gambling operations on non-native land. Based in Tyre, owned by Wilmorite and Penninsula Pacific and operated by JNB Gaming, this $440 million casino includes just shy of two thousand slot machines, 85 table games 14 poker tables (alongside nine restaurants and bars, a spa, multiple retail outlets and a 2,400-seat entertainment venue). The poker tables offer both limit and no limit versions of Texas Hold ‘Em, Pot Limit Omaha and Seven Card Stud.

Alongside the regular poker games at the permanent tables, Del Lago offers regular tournaments. They tend to sit at the higher end of the buy-in spectrum (their $100k Guaranteed Monster Stack Tournament in early August had a $400 buy-in) but occasionally they have tournaments on the lower end at around $60.

Tioga Downs Casino Resort

Tioga Downs isn’t as large an operation, but still has plenty to keep you entertained. As well as 890 slot machines (including video poker) there are 28 table games and six poker games to choose from. Beyond the casino the resort also has a restaurant and harness racing for those looking for something a bit difference on the racetrack. You can play limit and no limit Texas Hold ‘Em, limit and pot limit Omaha (both high/low and high only) and 5 and 7 card stud.