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When Will Florida Legalize and Regulate Online Gambling?

By Jennifer Hassan in Laws and Regulation
| January 30, 2020 12:32 am PDT
When Will Florida Legalize and Regulate Online Gambling

Florida has a global reputation for “anything goes.” The state has legalized marijuana for medical purposes, there’s an official python hunt before the Super Bowl, and word has it that in the city of Sanford, you can be naked on stage as long as you are in a “bona fide” theater production.

However, as in many other states, there is no explicit mention of the legality of gambling online.

Ever since the federal government in 2018 declared that the states could decide on their own stances regarding online sports betting and gaming as long as the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 was not violated, places such as New Jersey have leaped ahead of the pack, offering sports betting and mobile gaming.

Not so Florida. In fact, not so a lot of places. This is primarily because if any form of gambling already exists in a state, then the provider of such gambling has a vested interest in preventing people from being able to place bets elsewhere.

Just as the mobile phone has made payphones obsolete, so, too, online gaming may render bricks-and-mortar casinos pointless. Or so the thinking goes. So, when will Florida legalize and regulate online gambling?

Who Calls the Shots in FL?

Governor Ron DeSantis has hinted at a strong working relationship with the Seminole tribe, who owns six casinos in Florida.

Tribal casinos are not compelled to give money to the state—they are taxed neither federally nor at the state level—but often do in a gesture of goodwill or under a non-compete contract whereby the state agrees that no one else will be authorized to offer gaming.

Florida has benefitted from such a contract with the Seminole tribe paying the state upwards of $300 million per year for exclusive gaming rights.

However, since Florida has allowed local non-tribal cardrooms to run gambling-style card games, thus violating this pact between state and tribe, the Seminole tribe is withholding money from Florida.

Thus, we see the power of tribal casinos to dictate the gambling atmosphere within a state.

Tribal casinos throughout the United States spend an estimated $28 million annually on lobbyists to protect their multi-billion-dollar empires. That’s a tough current to buck.

However, many Americans simply ignore the state of “up in the air” politics and legislation about the legality of online gaming and do it anyway.

Especially since there appear to be no negative consequences for the individual gambler who is engaged in online gaming with an offshore casino.

Pending Legislation

There is a bill in Florida that is slated to be heard before the State Senate. This bill, SB968, would authorize sports betting.

Within the bill, the only mention of online gambling occurs under section 547.001 (3), which defines a “licensee” as someone authorized to “operate an online sports pool.”

Licensing an online sports pool operator within the state is certainly a step towards validating online gambling as a whole, but this is simply a proposed bill and may not become law.

What’s going to make passing a law regarding online gambling in Florida much more complex than it could have been is that in November of 2019, Florida citizens voted for a change in the state’s constitution. From now on, any proposals for expanding FL gambling laws have to be put to a statewide vote, something much more onerous and time-consuming than getting a proposal through the Senate.

Where Things Stand Now

People gamble online. A lot. Americans from every state use offshore sites to do so.

Many states are losing out on the tax revenue by not allowing for in-state mobile gambling. These same states are prevented from passing mobile gaming legislation because it will anger in-state casino owners. Thus, these states, Florida included, appear to be at a legislative impasse regarding mobile gaming.

According to data and statistics resource Statista.com, by 2024, the online gaming market will be valued at “more than 94 billion dollars.”

Online Gambling Is Hard to Ignore

Access to online gaming is going to be tougher and tougher for politicians and tribal casinos to ignore. Especially since it’s so easy to cross state lines and gamble, and to go online and gamble, and to head to Vegas and spend all your money.

In a country as large and populous as the US, with open state borders and a mobile and affluent citizenry, people tend to do what they want. We are unique in that the states are afforded a certain sovereignty in making their own laws. (Actually, states were always supposed to have more power than the federal government, but that’s a conversation for another time. The point is that laws can and do vary dramatically from state to state.)

Even if Florida’s tribal casinos offer mobile access to their own games, the fact remains that many gamblers bypass the whole issue and just gamble anyway using an offshore site.

Florida’s budget committee is currently crunching numbers to see if the state budget can live without the Seminole payouts and how it could reap the same income from other styles of betting.

There appears to be some evidence that the Seminole tribe is so up in arms about this even being a conversation that they have decided to stop payments anyway. If this is true, this could be the break the state needs to consider other gambling options as Florida struggles to balance its $90 billion-plus state budget.

Now the Citizens Can Veto a Gambling Bill

But it’s all just talk for now. Senators can propose bills, and the Governor can veto them. The Senate may approve an expansion to current gambling laws, but the citizens of Florida may shoot it down in a vote.

The fact that Floridians voted to amend their state’s constitution to give them this right may be indicative of local resistance to any more gambling outlets, period.

To Sum It Up

People often wonder why “nothing gets done” in politics.

I’ve given you a snapshot of how a handful of interests can create a static system of equal tension in all directions. Unless there is movement in one area, there can be no movement in the system as a whole.

We see this on the national level between parties. What was once intended to prevent one point of view from having too much power in our young nation has resulted in a situation similar to two equally weighted kids on a teeter-totter, both stuck in midair, neither going anywhere.

We’ll have to watch and see what filters through the red tape and the lobbying and the fact that states can’t afford to lose the revenue potential offered by instate online gambling by turning a blind eye to the issue.

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