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Florida Online Gambling and Live Casino Updates

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Florida’s gaming industry includes a wide range of venues and stakeholders, which has made for a pretty vibrant market in the Sunshine State. Unfortunately, it has also led to more than a little confusion, as the laws that govern the casinos and other facilities in the state have aged poorly. That has led to renewed calls for reform in the state, including efforts to renew and update the compact that governs the critical agreement between the state government and the Seminole Tribe. There are plenty of online casinos in Florida, though none of these are regulated by the state government as of yet.

Online Regulation Appears Unlikely

While live gambling is a popular pastime in Florida, lawmakers have yet to find much interest in regulating any of the Florida online casinos just yet. Along with the general mix of moral qualms and uneasiness over Internet betting, this may also be due to the fact that many in the state see bigger issues that need to be addressed first in the brick-and-mortar industry.

But this lack of action from the state doesn’t mean that Floridians can’t play their favorite betting games online. In industry terms, the state is a grey market – one in which there is no regulatory framework, but one in which players face no consequences for signing up at sites and playing for real money. This has led many foreign operators to continue allowing players in the state to deposit, play, and win money on casino and poker sites to this day.

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Slow Expansion Leads to Massive Industry

Until the 1980s, the gaming industry in Florida was rather limited. Only pari-mutuel facilities that offered betting on horse and greyhound races, as well as jai alai. In 1986, voters in the state also approved a lottery: one that was originally a single drawing each week, but which has expanded, as in so many other states, to include several games and participation in multi-state drawings.

A key moment came in 2004, when voters approved the addition of slot machines to pari-mutuel facilities in Dad and Broward Counties. While that only began to open the door to full-scale gambling, it would never close. Over time, more and more facilities gained access to poker, video poker, slot machines, and in some cases, even table games. However, roulette and similar games were not permitted.

Seminole Tribe Dominates Gaming Landscape

Many of these expansions were of particular importance to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as they gained the right to potentially offer the same games in casinos on their own lands. Beginning in 1991, the Seminoles began to seek a compact with the state that would allow for so-called Class III gaming (which includes many tables games and slots), though they were not successful until after the 2004 vote that brought similar games to racetracks and jai alai frontons in some countries.

In 2007, the tribe and Governor Charlie Crist reached an agreement, though not one without controversy: the Florida House of Representatives challenged the compact, saying that the governor had taken on responsibilities that belonged to the state legislature, essentially usurping their powers. The state’s Supreme Court ultimately sided with the legislature, saying that only the legislature had the power to change or amend state laws.

However, that wasn’t the end of the Seminole Tribe’s efforts to work out an agreement with the state government. In 2010, the legislature, governor, and the Seminoles agreed to a compact that would guarantee the state at least $1 billion in revenue over five years. Under that agreement, the tribe could exclusively offer banked card games such as blackjack at five of its resorts, while all seven could allow any other games authorized anywhere in the state. The agreement also stated that should the compact not be renewed in five years, then the card games would have to be halted within 90 days – a provision that has caused more than a little trouble in the year 2015.

Currently, there are seven Seminole casinos in the state (along with one other Native American resort, operated by the Miccosukee Tribe). These include two casinos in Hollywood and Tampa that are run under the Hard Rock Hotel brand name. In addition, about 25 pari-mutuel sites offer more limited forms of gaming, as well as two casino cruise ships based in Jacksonville and Cape Canaveral. Talks for commercial casino expansion have come up from time to time, but thus far, the state has resisted efforts to bring “Las-Vegas style” resorts to areas such as Miami and Orlando.

Heated Debate Could Lead to Significant Changes

2015 shaped up to be a very important year for Florida’s gambling industry. The five-year exclusivity agreement on card games for the Seminoles was set to expire, while the topic of broader gaming expansion was also on the minds of many lawmakers.

But it was the Seminole compact that ultimately dominated the headlines throughout the year. With the existing agreement set to expire on July 31, the Seminoles preemptively accused the state of violating the terms of the deal by allowing at least some racetracks to have games that were meant to be exclusive to the tribe. Whether or not that was actually true was a matter of some debate: the tracks were offering only electronic blackjack, with some also offering a player-banked version of Three Card Poker.

Because of these games, the tribes said that they could not only stop making the large exclusivity payments they had been providing to the state, but that they could also continue offering their own card games even if the compact expired – after all, they were being allowed in other parts of the state. The disagreement has led to a slew of lawsuits and challenges, with the state claiming the tribe must stop offering the games while the Seminoles refuse to do so.

Given the stakes involved in this dispute, legislators have been working on a way to approach the issue in the 2016 legislative session, hoping that a new compact could potentially settle things in a more amicable way then a protracted court fight. But there are issues to be resolved that have nothing to do with Indian tribes.

Other topics on the table could include potentially allowing a slots-based casino in Miami, as well as the extension of slot machines to facilities in more locations, such as Palm Beach and Fort Myers. Some lawmakers also want to assure that voters will have the final approval over any future gaming licenses awarded by the state.

Notably absent among those topics is the idea of Internet gaming – almost understandable, considering how much else the state has on its plate. But that’s enough for Florida to be well down the list of states that could regulate online betting in the next few years. It’s quite possible that the state could eventually license local gaming sites, but it will have to have its brick-and-mortar issues sorted out first.

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