Massive Gambling Expansion Voted on in Florida
Understanding statewide issues that affect us takes time and research by local journalists. Support more work like this by signing up for a digital subscription. See our current offers. The Florida Legislature approved legal sports betting in a gambling deal with the state’s Seminole tribe that, if it stands, will be the biggest gambling expansion in Sunshine State history.
The deal, known as a gaming compact, legalizes online sports betting in Florida, to be controlled exclusively by the tribe, with profit-sharing opportunities to negotiate with pari-mutuels such as jai alai frontons, horse tracks and cardrooms to participate in the new venture. (Don’t know what those are? Keep reading.)
It’s not law yet. The compact still must be OK’d by federal regulators in the U.S. Department of Interior to ensure it comports with Indian gambling law. It may face lawsuits by any number of groups opposed to more gambling in the state. And it may have to go before voters under terms of a constitutional amendment approved by 71% of Florida voters in 2018. But what is the status of gambling in Florida right now? What’s allowed, and what isn’t? Can you be arrested for your Friday night poker game? It’s complicated, but we’ve got answers.
Is gambling allowed in Florida?
Some of it is.
Florida defines gambling as playing or engaging in any card game or game of chance, at any place, by any device, for money or another thing of value. Most forms of gambling are prohibited, but there are specific exemptions. The Florida Lottery, for example.
Florida 2020 Statutes: Chapter 849 – Gambling
What forms of gambling are currently legal in Florida?
Broadly speaking, Florida allows some pari-mutuel gambling including horse racing and cardrooms licensed by the state, casino gambling on lands belonging to Native American tribes, state-run lotteries and interstate games such as the Powerball, and small social games.
What is pari-mutuel gambling?
Pari-mutuel gambling is a system where all bets are put together in a pool, the “house” takes a cut, and the final payout isn’t determined until the betting is closed and payoff odds are calculated. Pari-mutuel betting is used for jai alai, horse racing, and sporting events when participants finish in a ranked order.
What is jai alai?
Jai alai is a fast-paced game that originated in the Basque region of Spain and thrived in Florida after the first professional fronton (stadium) opened in Miami in the 1920s. The sport is played with two teams of two players, each with elongated, curved, handheld baskets (cestas), who catch and hurl a small, hard ball (pelota) in one continuous motion to whip across the fronton and bounce off three walls and the floor. Imagine four-person handball that’s been weaponized. Since one of the ways to lose points is to hold the ball, the game never stops moving and jai alai pelotas easily reach speeds over 100 mph, making the game exciting to watch and occasionally dangerous to play. The sport once held the world record for ball speed with one reaching 188 mph. Jai alai – and betting on jai alai – was extremely popular in Florida up through the ’80s but interest waned when tribal casinos and other forms of gambling became popular. The Florida State Legislature, in a bid to prop up the sport, passed HB 1059 to allow poker games (cardrooms) in pari-mutuel facilities such as jai alai frontons and horse and greyhound racing tracks, which helped the locations stay afloat but didn’t help the sport. There are now only three jai alai frontons in the U.S.: two in Miami and one in Dania Beach. But amateur teams still play. St. Petersburg opened the nation’s first public jai alai court in 2008.
Is horse racing legal in Florida?
Yes. Off-track and inter-track betting on thoroughbred racing, quarter horse racing, or harness racing is allowed, but only if you place your bets onsite.
Is greyhound racing legal in Florida?
No. Greyhound racing ended when a statewide referendum passed in 2018 that banned the sport as of Jan. 1, 2021.
What is a cardroom?
A licensed, pari-mutuel facility where Florida allows games of poker (and, oddly, dominoes) to be played for money. The state does not consider this casino gambling, according to the statutes, because “the participants play against each other instead of against the house.” Cardrooms can be found at Tribal casinos and racetracks. Several are in former racetracks where greyhounds were raced before that practice was banned. Others are in former jai alai frontons. Some prestigious poker tournaments are held in Florida alongside regular cash games. Online poker is not permitted.
Are slot machines illegal in Florida?
Slot machines are legal at tribal casinos and pari-mutuels only in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Not only are slot machines illegal elsewhere, you are not permitted to own one or even part of one.
Can my friends and I play cards for money in Florida?
Yes, as long as you keep the pot small. Gambling for big bucks in games of chance at unlicensed locations, such as your kitchen table, are a second-degree misdemeanor. But the state does allow penny-ante games. Penny-ante games are defined as “a game or series of games of poker, pinochle, bridge, rummy, canasta, hearts, dominoes, or mah-jongg in which the winnings of any player in a single round, hand, or game do not exceed $10 in value.” Also, the person running the game can’t charge for it and the game must be held in a home owned or rented by one of the players, or the common recreational area of a college dormitory or a publicly-owned center.
Is my church’s bingo game legal?
It is! With a boatload of restrictions on who can do it, where they can do it, how the game is played and even what the cards have to look like. Florida permits bingo games where you pay to play and win a prize, but they must be held by “charitable, nonprofit, or veterans’ organizations engaged in charitable, civic, community, benevolent, religious, or scholastic works or other similar endeavors” and those organizations must have been in existence for three years or more. Also, all proceeds after business expenses must be donated to the endeavors listed above. Raffles are also legal, with many of the same restrictions.
What is the legal age for gambling in Florida?
The minimum gambling age is 21 for casino games and 18 for lottery games, poker, bingo, and pari-mutuel betting such as horse racing and jai alai.
Can I bet on the Super Bowl in Florida?
Not legally. It is a second-degree misdemeanor to bet on “any trial or contest of skill, speed or power or endurance of human or beast.” It’s even worse to be the person taking the bets, which is a third-degree felony. There’s some argument over where offshore betting websites fall here, but Florida bans all betting on sports. Except, for some reason, bowling. Bowling tournaments are exempted from this and are perfectly welcome.
Are internet cafes legal in Florida?
Sort of, if you can still find one. Florida permits sweepstakes, and internet cafes advertise themselves as essentially sweepstakes parlors that offer game “promotions.” This allows them to try to work around the state’s definition of “games of chance,” often comparing their electronic games to something closer to McDonald’s Monopoly game. Aside from a 2013 law banning them from using slot-machine-like computer games, attempts to ban or regulate internet cafes haven’t gotten much traction. But many local governments have banned them due to the high rates of illegal activity and crime that often happen in and around them.
Are arcades legal in Florida?
That depends on what games they offer. Arcades that offer video or physical games of skill that allow you to win tokens or tickets to be exchanged for prizes are covered by Florida’s Family Amusement Games Act, so heading out to Chuck E. Cheese or Dave and Buster’s is fine. But if the game includes a randomized element, such as a random chance as to which prize you can win, even if the outcome relies on skill it’s considered a game of chance and is illegal under the regulations against slot machines. In 2016 a court ruled against the Palms II internet cafe in Ocala that featured such games, saying that the random element brought them under the law against “any game . . . of chance, at any place, by any device whatever, for money or other thing of value.”
Are casino cruises legal in Florida?
Not in or near Florida, no. But since the 1980s cruise ships operating out of Florida ports have taken people three miles out into international waters to gamble. These cruise ships may not be out overnight, or they run afoul of federal laws against “gambling ships.”
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Sourced from: Palm Beach Post