Florida Poker & Gambling Laws

Wednesday, 16th August 2017

An Overview of the Gambling Laws in the State Of Florida

If you get caught organizing illegal gambling in Florida, then the penalties are strict. At the same time, this State has a huge number of opportunities for residents to enjoy legal gambling at Tribal Casinos, poker rooms and Bingo halls. You can even take a ‘cruise to nowhere’ and gamble in international waters. This article explains the Florida gambling laws in detail.

First of all below you will find a quick history of gambling in Florida, with the key events and games included. After this you can see a list of the different gambling games, along with a summary of the current opportunities to play them. Next the legislation is looked at – this includes the key statutes and a legal timeline too. Finally at the end of this page you can read a summary plus a look into possible future scenarios.


Florida Gambling Laws – A Brief History

The history of gambling in Florida is complex and colorful – with organized crime and conservative political groups fighting it out for more than 100 years. In the late 1800’s on Henry Flagler built the first (illegal) casino at St. Augustine – catering for the high-rollers of the day. Curiously, Flagler built both a church and a casino next to each of his hotel resorts, possibly hedging his bets!

Bolita features heavily in the gambling history of Florida. This translates from Spanish as ‘Little Ball’ and bears similarities to Bingo. Imported from Cuba in the 1920’s Bolita went underground, and was controlled by the Mob until a 1940’s crackdown.

Like many States, sports-betting in Florida is limited to pari-mutuel (pooled) betting on Horses and greyhounds. You can also bet on Jai-Alai – the fast paced ball game on a 3-sided court. Nowadays, the racetracks are looking to expand from racing and card games, and are looking to offer slots. This is meeting resistance from the Seminole Indian Tribe – whose land is home to the biggest and most luxurious Florida casinos.

The Seminole were poor, even by Native American standards, until they built their first bingo hall offering big jackpots on a reservation in 1979. This was an instant success, and remained open despite vigorous legal efforts to close it down. In 2004, things boomed for the Seminoles – with slots made legal in Miami-Dade and Broward counties opening the doors for these games at their own casinos. These rapidly expanded, new lands bought for purposes of erecting ‘sacred temples’ quickly becoming home to lavish casino resorts – including the infamous Hard-Rock Casinos.

One more breakthrough was to come in 2010. Until that date the maximum bet in poker games was only $2 – killing off the action. This was relaxed and poker boomed throughout the State. The casinos are now home to some of the most prestigious tournament events in the world – and offer some extremely high stakes cash games.


What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Games: Yes, there are some world class casinos in Florida, based on Seminole Tribal lands, these include the Hard Rock Casinos and many more. Floridians also have the option to go on ‘cruises to nowhere’ and play casino games in international waters – including Craps and Roulette, which are not spread in land-based casinos. In addition, you can find slots casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Online Casinos: No, recent legislation based on internet café casinos have made this form of gambling explicitly illegal. In fact that bill may have made any device which has the potential to be used for gambling illegal too – which includes every computer, phone and tablet in the State.

Live Poker Games: Yes, there are card rooms associate with the Tribal casinos and with racetracks. With maximum bets going up from $2 to $100 in 2008, poker has flourished and Florida now hosts some prestigious tournaments and tours alongside regular cash-games. You can play home-games, though the provisions for social games are strict. In addition to the standard US-wide rules about nobody making a profit or rake from the games, there is a maximum win of $10 in place. This is very much a provision for ‘penny ante’ games – complete with a list of the card games allowed.

Online Poker Games: No, this is covered by the 2012 laws banning internet café casinos. Florida’s laws are broad enough that games of skill are included. There have not been any arrests only for playing online poker games.

Sports Betting: Yes, you can bet using pari-mutuel machines on horse and dog racing. You are also able to get on Jai-Alai – a regional ball game in a 3-walled court.

Lottery Betting: Yes, Florida has a state lottery and participates in the inter-State games including the Powerball. The history of lottery type betting goes back a long way in this State, with a US version of the Hispanic Bolita game.

Bingo Games: Yes, charity bingo games and raffles are permitted, and you can also enjoy bingo for big prizes on the Seminole tribal territories.


Florida Gambling Laws – Statutes and Legal Timeline

Florida has a rich gambling history, with casinos going back to the late 1800’s – things really started to explode after 2004, when legalized slots in 2 counties opened the way for the now dominant tribal casinos to form.

The main legislation has remained little changed, and contains some very strict penalties for both the organizers and players of any gambling games. Here is the main definition:

“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…”Chapter 849
(Chapter 849)

‘Game of chance’ might indicate that poker could use the ‘skill game’ argument in this State – the blanket inclusion of ‘cards’ might make this difficult to argue.

Here is a timeline of the major legal events which have shaped gambling in Florida:

1888: Henry Flagler opens the (illegal) Bacchus Club Casino in St. Augustine.

1920: Boilita, a numbers game imported via Cuba, sweeps the State – gambling houses spring up to accommodate this, attracting members of the Mob.

1930s: The Mob control gambling via a network of illegal houses, speak-easies and so on – in many cases local police forces were on the payroll.

1935: Slot machines were legalized, this was not to last and they were banned after a vote 2 years later.

1978: Referendum on allowing casino gambling in Miami-Dade and Broward counties was defeated, this same referendum was again defeated in 1986 and in 1994.

1979: The Seminole tribe open a high-stakes bingo hall on their own land, this remained open despite attempts to close it down which ended up with a ruling in the US Court of Appeals.

2004: Miami-Dade and Broward get their casinos, the referendum finally passing after the games were limited to Slots. This gave the Seminole tribes implicit permission to also expand their slots offerings – which would trigger the boom in Tribal casinos which we are still witnessing 10 years later.

2010: The $2 max bet in poker is relaxed, almost immediately leading a boom in live poker venues throughout the State.

2013: Internet cafes, which were acting as fronts for gambling games are banned. At the same time Florida has accidentally banned all computers, phones and tablet devices anywhere – since they now all have the potential to be gambling machines.


Florida Gambling Laws – Summary and Looking To the Future

There are many opportunities to enjoy casino games, bingo and poker in Florida – and there are always the cruise ships for those who want to play games like Roulette or Craps not allowed in the main casinos. While the penalties are theoretically strict, this State has a history of going after organizers or racketeers – rather than players of gambling games.

The ban on gambling via computers in internet café casino is a blow to those looking for online gambling in the future. On the positive side, there have already been bills introduced, and the progressively more relaxed legislation in this State looks positive for eventually legalizing online poker at least. In the meantime there is a stand-off between the racetracks, who would like to add slots to their racing and table games, and the tribes – who are hesitating on signing a multi-year compact.


Useful Resources:

Main statutes on gambling

Bolita Explanation

History Overview

State Laws Summarized