Florida Gambling Laws

You’d think that a state boasting the fourth largest tribal casino market, dozens of gambling venues where live poker is spread, and a population of nearly 20 million would be a prime candidate to legalize online poker. And you’d be wrong.

Recently re-elected Governor Rick Scott has vocalized a strong opposition to online gambling, going so far as to call for a national ban. [1] There’s little doubt that Scott’s position is influenced by his desire to secure funds from Republican mega-donor and staunch anti-gambling opponent Sheldon Adelson. Unless Scott has an unlikely change of heart, it doesn’t appear that Internet poker will be at the forefront of legislative discussion until at least 2019.

Compounding matters further, in 2013 lawmakers inked a bill designed to prevent Internet cafes from hosting sweepstakes. On its own, that doesn’t seem so bad, but the hastily conceived bill is so poorly phrased, that its language can easily be interpreted to read that any machine (computer, smartphone, tablet etc.) connected to the Internet is an illicit gaming device. [2]

Instead, the Sunshine State’s legislators will spend the 2015 Session embroiled in a heated battle over the state’s existing gambling laws, which currently grant the Seminole Tribe of Florida exclusive rights to blackjack in exchange for $1.1 billion dollars, spread across five years. That contract is about to expire, opening the door for racinos and casino gaming interests to fight for an increased presence. [3]

For better or worse, the next twelve months may very well redefine Florida’s casino industry. Whether the market is expanded or retracted may ultimately influence the odds of an Internet poker bill being passed before 2020.

Can Players from Florida Play Real-Money Online Poker?

Online poker is not regulated in Florida, and according to certain interpretations of existing law, Internet gambling in all forms is illegal. Despite this, players from the Sunshine State will have little trouble creating an account on most US facing sites. Do so at your own risk.

In other parts of the world, online poker players do not worry about whether they’re acting within the confines of the law. In European countries, among others, real-money poker websites are regulated by government, and thus, are considered perfectly legal.

Is Online Poker Legal in Florida?

Although we are not legal experts, our interpretation of the law is that playing online poker in Florida is in fact a crime. To understand how we derived at that conclusion, we first look at the statutes wide-ranging definition of gambling, Section 849.08:

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 thing of value, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree…

Although the inclusion of the term cards suggests that poker players can be prosecuted, the reference to chance presents some ambiguity. That haziness is all but cleared up by Section 849.14. To paraphrase, this section renders it unlawful to bet on contests of skill.

If this weren’t already enough, the law reaches one step further by extending the definition of unlawful gambling devices to include (Section 849.16):

any machine or device or system or network of devices that is adapted for use in such a way that, upon activation, which may be achieved by, but is not limited to, the insertion of any piece of money, coin, account number, code, or other object or information…

Even though the terms Internet and poker are never mentioned, taken together, these three Sections strongly suggest that playing online poker is a punishable crime.

There are however, a few carve-outs for live poker. Most notably, Florida gambling law permits cardrooms at licensed pari-mutuel facilities, in so long as the venue abides by a set of strict regulations. Furthermore, penny-ante games in which the winnings of any player in a single round, hand, or game do not exceed $10 in value are permissible if the game takes place in a dwelling, all participants are over the legal gambling age of 18 and the house does not directly or indirectly charge admission or any other fee for participation in the game.

Under these two sets of rather rigid conditions, it is perfectly legal to play poker. It should also be noted that in 2010, Florida legislators lifted a ban restricting the maximum amount a player could buy-in for. [4] In effect, Florida’s live poker industry experienced a boom of sorts.

Legislation Timeline

  • March 2010: State Representative Joseph Abruzzo introduces HB 77 ahead of Black Friday. The bill called for the state’s pari-mutuel facilities to act as portals for real money online poker websites.
  • April 2011: HB 77 dies in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. [5]
  • 2012: Heavy resistance from the Seminole Tribe and discussions pertaining to the shutdown of Internet sweepstakes cafes proved too much to warrant a second crack at online poker legislation.
  • April 2013: HB 3 – Prohibition of Simulated Gaming Devices is signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.

Florida Gambling History

Florida’s gambling roots trace back to the late-19th century, when members of the upper class gathered at the Ponce de Leon Hotel to wager on games like craps and roulette. Up until and throughout the Roaring Twenties, gambling houses became more and more prevalent. Also in the 1920s, Cuban immigrants introduced a variety of new betting games into American culture.

At the time gambling was illegal, but it wasn’t until the mob infiltrated the city in the 1930s that government took notice. In response, horse racing was legalized in 1931, followed by slot machines in 1935. Law officials justified the change by insisting that gambling would help Florida recoup from the Great Depression.

Throughout the middle decades of the 20th century, all gambling expansion attempts were met by heavy resistance from the state’s conservative factions. It wouldn’t be until 1986 that Florida voters authorized a lottery through constitutional amendment. The first $1 scratch-off went on sale two years later, and sold a staggering 95 million units. Today, the lottery contributes over $1 billion annually to the state’s educational system.

In 2004, legislators authorized slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. This proved a major victory for the Seminole Tribe, who had their eyes on gambling expansion ever since the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed some 16 years earlier.

By 2010, No-Limit poker games were legalized at the state’s tribal casinos and cardrooms, and within just a couple of years, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino at Hollywood was hosting some of the most prestigious live tournaments in the country. [6] Today, there are approximately two dozen authorized poker rooms in the state.

Regulated Gambling Options in Florida

Floridians have a fairly wide array of gambling options at their disposal. The state boasts a thriving pari-mutuel and tribal casino industry, although it should be noted that the cardrooms do not spread house banked games, nor do the tribal casinos allow dice or ball games such as Roulette and Craps.

Pari-mutuel wagering, the lottery and limited forms of charitable gambling (bingo and raffles) are also sanctioned by Florida law.

Other recent headlines

Legislators are seriously considering the merits of bringing the lottery online. [7] If a bill is passed, Florida will become the eighth state to permit Internet lotteries. Comparatively, online poker is only regulated by three states.

The Future of Regulated Online Gambling in Florida

As much as Florida’s gambling industry has grown over the past several years, there are no immediate plans to introduce an online gambling operation. Which is too bad, as Florida is one of only a handful of states populated enough to reasonably sustain an intrastate iPoker industry. Unfortunately, it probably won’t happen while Rick Scott occupies the Governor’s chair.

That being said, Florida will still probably be one of the first 10 states to regulate online gaming. Expect a launch sometime in the next 5-7 years.


  1. Jump up ^ Rick Scott - Twitter
  2. Jump up ^ Did new Florida law make computers and phones illegal?
  3. Jump up ^ ‘Discussion’s coming’ on Florida difficult gambling deal
  4. Jump up ^ Vegas by the Sea? Florida Bets on High-Stakes Poker
  5. Jump up ^ Florida’s internet poker legislation won’t pass this session
  6. Jump up ^ Seminole Hard Rock Hotel Hosting Big Tournaments
  7. Jump up ^ Florida Lottery mag go online