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History of Casinos in New York

History of Casinos in New York

New York, a state renowned for its cultural diversity, historical landmarks, and economic significance, also boasts a rich and evolving history in the casino industry. From the early days of gambling prohibition to the present era of thriving casino resorts and online betting, New York’s journey with casinos reflects broader societal changes and economic ambitions.

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This article delves into the intricate history of casinos in New York to highlight key milestones, regulatory changes, and the impact on the state’s economy and culture.

Early Days of Gambling in New York

In the early 19th century, gambling in New York was mostly an underground activity. Despite its popularity among the masses, it faced significant legal and moral opposition just like other cities like Chicago or Houston casinos. New York’s initial attempts to regulate gambling were stringent, aimed at curbing what was perceived as a vice detrimental to society. However, these regulations did little to deter the public’s interest in games of chance.

  • 1820s-1850s: Gambling was mostly confined to illicit gaming houses and riverboats. These establishments were frequently raided by law enforcement.
  • 1860s-1890s: The rise of horse racing tracks, like the iconic Saratoga Race Course established in 1863, marked a shift towards more organized and socially accepted forms of gambling.

Prohibition and Underground Gambling

The early 20th century brought about stricter prohibition laws against gambling. This period saw a crackdown on illegal gambling operations, driving the activity further underground. Despite legal prohibitions, gambling continued to flourish covertly, often under the control of organized crime.

  • 1920s: Speakeasies and backroom gambling dens became widespread during Prohibition, offering patrons a chance to indulge in illicit activities away from the public eye.
  • 1930s: The Great Depression saw a surge in underground gambling as people sought quick ways to make money. Authorities struggled to keep up with the clandestine nature of these operations.

Legalization and the Rise of Racinos

The latter half of the 20th century marked a turning point in the history of gambling in New York. Recognizing the potential economic benefits, state authorities began to soften their stance on gambling, leading to gradual legalization and regulation.

The Introduction of Racinos

Racinos, a hybrid of racetracks and casinos, were introduced as a compromise between maintaining traditional horse racing and incorporating casino-style gaming.

  • 1970s: The New York Lottery was established in 1967, paving the way for more formalized gambling.
  • 2001: The state legislature approved Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) at racetracks, leading to the creation of racinos. These facilities combined the excitement of horse racing with the allure of electronic gaming machines.
  • Popular Racinos: Notable racinos include the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway and Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack. These establishments quickly became popular, drawing large crowds and generating substantial revenue for the state.

The Expansion of Full-Scale Casinos

The 21st century saw a significant expansion of full-scale casinos in New York. This era was characterized by the opening of luxurious casino resorts, offering a wide range of gaming options, entertainment, and accommodations.

  • 2013: A pivotal year for New York’s casino industry. Voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing up to seven private, non-Indian casinos to be built in the state. This move aimed to boost economic development, create jobs, and attract tourists.
  • 2016: The opening of Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady marked the beginning of a new era. This was followed by other major casinos like Del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo and Resorts World Catskills in Monticello. These venues offered table games, slot machines, poker rooms, and a variety of entertainment and dining options, setting a new standard for gambling in New York.

The Impact of Casinos on New York’s Economy

The legalization and expansion of casinos have had a profound impact on New York’s economy. The industry has generated significant revenue for the state, created thousands of jobs, and spurred development in various regions.

Economic Contributions

  • Revenue Generation: Casinos have become a vital source of revenue for the state, contributing billions of dollars through taxes and licensing fees. These funds support education, infrastructure, and other public services.
  • Job Creation: The construction and operation of casinos have created thousands of jobs, from dealers and hospitality staff to security personnel and administrative roles. This has provided a much-needed boost to local economies, especially in upstate regions.
  • Tourism and Development: Casinos have revitalized local tourism, attracting visitors from neighboring states and beyond. The development of casino resorts has also led to the growth of complementary businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and retail stores, further stimulating economic activity.

Challenges and Future Prospects

Despite the successes, the casino industry in New York faces several challenges. Competition from neighboring states, the rise of online gambling, and changing consumer preferences pose ongoing threats. However, the state continues to adapt and innovate, exploring new opportunities to sustain and grow the industry.

Online Gambling and Sports Betting

The legalization of online gambling and sports betting represents a significant shift in the industry.

  • 2019: New York launched legal sports betting at commercial casinos, expanding to online platforms in 2021. This move capitalized on the growing popularity of sports betting and aimed to capture a new market segment.
  • Challenges: The rapid growth of online gambling presents regulatory challenges, including ensuring fair play, preventing addiction, and safeguarding minors. The state has implemented measures to address these issues, such as self-exclusion programs and responsible gambling initiatives.

Future Prospects

The future of casinos in New York looks promising, with potential for further growth and diversification.

  • Continued Expansion: The state is exploring the possibility of additional casino licenses, particularly in downstate regions like New York City. This could significantly boost revenue and job creation.
  • Innovation: Casinos are increasingly incorporating technology and innovation to enhance the gaming experience. Virtual reality, skill-based games, and mobile apps are some of the trends shaping the future of gambling.


The history of casinos in New York is a testament to the dynamic and evolving nature of the industry. From its humble beginnings in underground gambling dens to the glitzy casino resorts of today, the journey has been marked by significant milestones, economic contributions, and ongoing challenges. 

As New York continues to adapt to changing market conditions and consumer preferences, the future of its casino industry holds great promise, offering exciting opportunities for growth and development.



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