Florida state law has yet to change to accommodate widespread legalization of online gambling as it has in many other states. Not only has there been little movement towards legalizing online sports betting in Florida, but existing state law is not favorable for any type of online gambling. While there has been legislation that would legalize online poker has been discussed, there is little visibility as to whether and when any legislation would pass. Currently, the forces in Florida are arrayed against online gambling.
Current Landscape in Florida
There are 26 gambling venues that currently operate in Florida. Most of these venues are racetracks which are currently lobbying for the right to add slot machines at their facilities to enhance revenues. There are eight Native American casinos and two casino boats that pick up passengers and take wagers once the boats are offshore. Some of the Native American casinos offer both slot machines and table games, while others offer slots and video gaming. Simply stated, gambling in Florida is much more limited than it is in the Northeast as commercial casinos and some forms of games are not permitted in the state. In addition to the casinos, there are live poker rooms as well as a vibrant horse racing industry.
Daily Fantasy Sports
Even DFS is a dicey proposition in Florida. There is a 1991 opinion from the state’s Attorney General stating that certain forms of fantasy sports would likely be illegal under state law. Nevertheless, DraftKings and FanDuel have taken the risk to remain in Florida notwithstanding the possibility that offering these games could be illegal under Florida law. Yahoo has pulled out of the Florida market for its DFS offerings due to the legal risk. There have been several attempts to legalize DFS in the state, but each has fallen short. The tribal casinos have vigorously fought legalization of DFS in Florida claiming that it violates their rights to exclusivity in the Florida gaming market. Since DFS is not explicitly legal in Florida, there are no reports required, and it is difficult to tell the size of the DFS market in Florida. This scenario wouldn’t fly with sports betting. FanDuel Sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook nor Pointsbet sportsbook would enter the online sportsbook space without explicitly sports betting laws in place.
Previous Legislative Efforts
Efforts to legalize online gaming in Florida date back to 2011 with an attempt to legalize online poker. The bill would have allowed card room operators to offer intrastate online poker. The bill was offered before Black Friday and was a means to offer consumer protection for gamblers who were betting on the national online poker sites. At the time the Uniform Internet Gaming Enforcement Act was in effect, but the federal government had yet to crack down on online poker operators. The bill was referred to the subcommittee and was subsequently withdrawn. The bill was reintroduced in 2012, but similarly failed after opposition from the tribal casinos. Multiple efforts to expand gaming in various forms have all ended in failure.
Instead of expanding gaming, in 2013, Florida cut back on gambling in Florida, outlawing internet cafés that offered players the chance to enter contests in exchange for buying online time at the café. Some of these contests included online poker. The language of this legislation was incredibly broad and can be applied to many forms of gambling, increasing the uncertainty for those who offer and play certain games.
Florida law actually makes it illegal for residents to partake in unregulated gambling, such as offshore sports betting. Most state laws put the onus on operators who accept bets, but Florida also outlaws playing poker at an unregulated facility or over an unregulated device. Thus, it would be illegal for Florida residents to play online poker on an offshore platform. However, there have been no efforts to enforce the law against individual players.
November Ballot Initiative
Currently, there are powerful forces arrayed against gaming expansion in Florida. Disney and the Seminole Tribe are allied in lobbying for an amendment to the Florida Constitution that would require voters to approve any expansion of gaming in the state as opposed to the governor and legislature. This has been placed on the ballot for the election this coming November and the prospects for passage are unclear, although 60 percent of the votes are required for passage. The current Florida Governor, Rick Scott, has long been an opponent of gaming in the state. In addition, the Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has issued numerous opinions against gambling and remains a steadfast opponent. However, these two state officials are term-limited out of office and will be replaced in January 2019, giving some hope to gambling proponents.
The tribal casinos are very influential in the state and they will likely have a say in the form that any future gaming expansion would take. The tribe has deep pockets and has not been reticent to expend large amounts of money to advance its interests as witnessed by its efforts supporting the November ballot initiative. For the tribe, if the anti-gambling forces prevail, it will perpetuate its dominant position in the state’s gambling market. Passage of the amendment may not necessarily end the prospects for gaming expansion in the state since expansion will be subject to the will of the voters. Voters could ultimately choose to expand gaming in Florida, including sports wagering, especially if they see neighboring states expanding gaming.
Future Gambling Prospects
Future gambling prospects in Florida are unclear, and the range of outcomes varies widely. In the event that control of the state’s political apparatus changes in November and the legislature retains control over gaming expansion, it could result in a rapid gaming expansion in the state. The complicating issue would be the state’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe, whereby the tribe pays the state roughly $250 million per year for the right to operate in the state. In the event that gaming is expanded, it could jeopardize the moneys that the state receives. At the same time, the Seminoles could tie up the gaming expansion in the courts as they would file suit to protect what they believe is their exclusive right to offer certain types of gaming in the state.