Florida is drenched in Vitamin D, known as the Sunshine State and associated with leisure activities. Given its high population of holidaymakers and retirees (the latter group consisting of around five million people). Millions of tourists travel to Florida, America’s third-most populous state, annually to enjoy the hundreds of miles of coastline and year-round balmy weather.
So it’s hardly surprising that many visitors and residents are keen to enjoy a game or two of poker here. And, from the time of the earliest settlers, gambling has been a strong part of local culture. What’s more, Florida has generated some of the world’s best poker players, from Sean Winter to Jason Mercier.
However, the debate over how gambling laws should work in practice has not been entirely settled.
Gambling in Florida: the background
Florida has a unique political and legal environment, and state gambling law is complex and changing all the time, with further changes quite possible in the foreseeable future. So it’s worth familiarising yourself with the rules before logging on to a gaming site.
As one newspaper, the Sarasota Post put it:
The Sunshine State has (been) switching backwards and forwards in terms of how they regulate the likes of … poker rooms. In fact, few states can boast such a colourful and complicated gambling history as Florida.
In broad terms, under American federal law, gambling is a legal activity. But each state can outlaw it or regulate it within its borders. Like every state (bar Utah and Hawaii), in Florida, certain forms of gambling are legal, including, for example, lotteries. Some other forms of charitable gaming and betting on horse and dog racing are also officially sanctioned.
However, online and sports betting are not strictly legal. Quite a few restrictions remain in place across the state, and fully legalised and regulated web-based poker feels some way off yet.
Land-based casino gambling in Florida is largely in the hands of the Seminole indigenous people. So legalising online poker is something that would probably have to come from their tribal leaders, in their next compact, or agreement with the state governing gambling arrangements.
Despite the technical illegality, prosecutions are very rare, and various established, reputable poker operators regulated in Latin America and the Caribbean will welcome players from Florida. So there are still ways of playing here, and there are options available to online poker players.
Gambling in Florida: key statistics
- Age restrictions: 18 in physical venues where no alcohol is served, otherwise 21
- Casino regulatory body: Florida Division of Consumer Services
Live poker has been legal in Florida since 2001:
- Land-based casinos in Florida are limited to Seminole tribal lands, and the number of casinos has been restricted. But many have sizeable poker rooms, and the game is also legal at racinos (racetracks which offer casino games) and geographical venues run by the Seminole people across the state.
- Another option is to play aboard a cruise ship, either three miles out in the Atlantic or nine miles into the Gulf of Mexico, i.e.in international waters beyond the reach of state gaming legislation. Such trips have been available since the mid-1980s and remain popular, if less so since the advent of the web.
This is part of the Florida Constitution and was set up to grant voters the exclusive right to approve (or otherwise) every decision to do with casino gambling. It includes all online gaming. Despite opposition from the Poker Alliance, it was passed in November 2018 by a wide margin of just over 70%.
Over the years, there have been various attempts, if few and far between, to legalise online poker across Florida. In 2012, for example, the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States tried to encourage it. However, this was a short-lived attempt, since even legalising the online sale of lottery tickets couldn’t be agreed.
Negotiations for an updated compact with the Seminole people hit the buffers in mid-2019 as talks between tribal leaders and Floridian lawmakers broke down over issues unrelated to online poker.
At the time, the Seminoles had wanted the exclusive rights to join forces with an online gaming provider to offer poker and other games to all players across the state of Florida.
With the governor at the time of writing, Ron DeSantis, opposed to web-based gaming in particular, commentators believe online poker would, in any event, have been unlikely to have been part of any new compact.
The situation in Florida regarding the legality or otherwise of online poker remains complex, and likely to change further in the future, although no one can say exactly when. It may be that sports betting, currently a hotly debated topic, becomes legalised in the state first.
Yet while not strictly legal and certainly not regulated, online poker is still accessible here. We can’t give legal advice. But we wouldn’t blame any players for proceeding with caution, or for keeping an eye on developments as things change.