It’s fair to say gambling in the Sunshine State can be a pretty contradictory experience. While the penalties for illegal gambling are characteristically severe, Florida actually provides plentiful opportunities for residents (and indeed, visitors) to enjoy bets of one kind or another.
Brick-and-mortar casinos on Native American reservations offer comprehensive gambling experiences, while traditional options like horse racing, slots, greyhound racing, bingo and lottery are all legit too. Players can also get their poker fix at poker rooms and even enjoy “cruise to nowhere” outings and gamble out in international waters on casino ships if they feel so inclined.
Things are not as sunny when it comes to online gambling in Florida. The state doesn’t have a regulated intrastate i-gaming market, and at present, there is no current legislation in place that could legalize play.
That is not likely to change anytime soon.
Florida voters supported Amendment 3, which stripped the state legislature of the ability to take up any bill related to gambling. That doesn't mean there could be changes to future laws, but it makes it significantly harder to do so. All future changes to existing gambling law will have to go through public referendum, which requires 60 percent approval from voters statewide.
For now, Florida will likely go several years (or more) before it can even consider sports betting or online casino gaming. Greyhound racing will also become illegal in coming years after voters approved a separate amendment that will ban these races by 2020.
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In brick-and-mortar terms, current legislation limits casino gambling in Florida largely to slot casinos, Native American casinos, and the aforementioned “cruise to nowhere” ships. Online casinos, for now, are not allowed.
Even though playing online for real money is not legal in Florida, social casinos are perfectly legal and can be played online in the state. Accessible via the internet or on an app, social casinos are free to use and feature all the most popular casino games, including video poker, blackjack, roulette and slots. In order to play, all you need to do is download the app or visit the website.
You won’t win real money playing the casino games at social casinos, but they are fun and often offer sweepstakes that are games of chance with prizes that include real money payouts.
All gambling-related issues in the Sunshine State are covered by Chapter 777 and Chapter 849 of Florida Statutes.
“Whoever plays or engages in any game at cards, keno, roulette, faro or other game of chance, at any place, by any device whatever, for money or other things of value, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.”
The legal definition of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) is still very much in question in Florida, though most importantly, major providers like DraftKings and FanDuel are widely available. While some people believe daily fantasy sports in Florida is an obvious form of gambling, others argue the contrary and that it is a game of skill and should therefore be legalized. DFS-friendly legislation has been introduced several times since 2015 but all attempts have stalled. Lawmakers may take another stab at legalizing DFS this year. However, with Florida’s complex regulatory system complicated even further by tricky constitutional language and tribal compacts with the Seminole, hopes are modest at best.
Florida is one of several states to introduce poker bill in recent times. This bill doesn’t mention online poker explicitly, as its chief remit is to change the way gaming in general is regulated in the state. While this may see, for instance, the relaxing of restrictions regarding the operation of live poker rooms, it does little to regulate online poker in Florida. Though online poker is still prohibited anywhere, 100% legal live poker in-person is on hand at Native American casinos, the fully-licensed “racinos” at racetracks and on casino ships.
At present, sports betting in Florida is pretty much limited to using pari-mutuel machines on horse and dog racing. Pari-mutuel (from the French: pari-mutuel or “mutual betting”) is effectively a betting system whereby all bets of a particular type are put together in a pool, with all taxes and the “house-take” removed. The payoff odds are calculated by sharing the pool among all winning bets.
The same issues raised earlier in this article about gambling online apply to online sports betting in Florida via an offshore betting website, which is prohibited.
Florida voters approve Amendment 3, which takes away the legislature's ability to consider gambling legislation. Touted by its supporters as a way to give voters greater autonomy, it in effect eliminates any new chance for gambling expansion for the immediate future.
Authorities ban Internet cafes, as they believe they are acting as fronts for illegal gambling games. By accident, all computers, phones and tablet devices are banned by proxy as they are all deemed to have the potential to be used as portals for illicit gambling activities. That is later corrected.
Laws regulating the $2 maximum bet in poker are relaxed, leading to a near-immediate explosion in live poker venues throughout the state.
The referendum to allow casino gambling in Miami-Dade and Broward finally passes after it is amended to allow slots only. This applies to the Seminole lands too, thus providing the catalyst for the tribal casinos' boom which is still in evidence today.
The Seminole Native American tribe opens a high-stakes bingo hall on its reservation land. Despite vigorous efforts to shut it down, the bingo hall remained open, eventually receiving an assertive ruling by the US Court of Appeals.
Henry Flagler opens Florida’s first (illegal) casino, the Bacchus Club Casino in St. Augustine.
A controversial referendum to allow casino gambling in Miami-Dade and Broward counties is defeated. The same referendum was to meet the same fate in 1986 and again in 1994.
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