Florida poker and gambling laws are not only confusing, but appear to have been created more to serve commercial interests rather than consumers. Some were created in haste and quickly repealed (i.e. slot machines between 1935 and 1937), while others were the result of years of perseverance against public opinion (i.e. brick and mortar casinos between 1978 and 2004).
In recent years, the gambling landscape has been shaped by tribal gaming interests, anti-online gambling Governor Rick Scott and Walt Disney World – who contributes millions of dollars annually to anti-gambling campaigners in order to prevent the perception of the Magic Kingdom being “tarnished” by the proximity of brick-and-mortar casinos.
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Can Players From Florida Play Poker Online?
Despite having an anti-online gambling Governor and an unenforceable law making all computers and smartphones illegal, residents and visitors to Florida can play online poker for real money at many USA Poker Sites. In addition to providing a rich selection of games, many online poker operators also offer valuable promotions and first deposit bonuses.
Is it Legal to Play Online Poker in Florida?
The reason many people believe it is legal to play online poker in Florida appears in Chapter 849 of the Florida Statutes. Section 849.08 states:
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 misdemeanour of the second degree.
Case law exists that considers poker to be a game of skill rather than a game of chance; and, although the hastily-worded law banning computers and smartphones still exists on the statute books, it would be very difficult to bring a successful prosecution against an online poker player.
One further reason why an enforcement action would be unlikely is the case of the
Largo Eight in which eight Tampa pensioners were arrested for playing a nickel-and-dime poker game in the social club of their trailer park. Florida police and legislators received plenty of bad press after the event and were accused of wasting taxpayers´ money in the pursuit of a victimless crime.
At this point, I would like to remind visitors to the site that I am no legal expert. As online poker in Florida has not yet been explicitly allowed and is not currently regulated, I recommend seeking legal advice in order to get a professional’s opinion about the legality of playing online poker in Florida.
Florida Gambling History
Florida has an on-off relationship with gambling, mostly fueled by whichever commercial interest is pulling the strings at the time. The state’s first documented flirtation with legalized gambling was in 1828 when the Territorial Council approved a state lottery to support Jacksonville’s Union Academy.
- The state subsequently banned all forms of gambling in 1832, and then made a point of specifically outlawing lotteries by writing a ban into the constitution in 1868.
- The ban did not prevent illegal casinos springing up all over the place – in particular the exclusive Bacchus Club at the Ponce de Leon hotel in St. Augustine in 1888.
- By the 1920s, illegal gambling houses were flourishing; and, as politicians were among the most frequent visitors, little was done to prevent the spread of gambling.
- Then, in 1931, betting on horse racing in Florida was legalized to raise funds in order to help the state recover from the depression.
- Four years later, in 1935, racetracks were allowed to host slot machines on their premises. Such is the on-off nature of Florida´s gambling laws, they were made illegal two years later.
- In 1979, the Seminole Tribe opened a bingo parlor contrary to state law. The parlor was initially shut down by law enforcement, but reopened on order of the Court of Appeals.
- The Seminole Tribe´s victory in the case led to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and made the tribe a powerful figure in shaping current gambling legislation in Florida.
- The lottery was reintroduced in 1986 to raise funds for the state´s schools. Despite popular demand, subsequent attempts to bring the lottery online have failed.
- Casino ships were first legalized in 1994 and, after three failed attempts, racetracks with pari-mutuel facilities were allowed to host a limited number of slots and casino table games in 2004.
Recent Developments in Florida Gambling History
Over the past ten years, various attempts have been made to expand gambling in Florida – both land-based gambling and online gambling. Most are just token efforts due to Governor Rick Scott being vehemently opposed to online gambling, and a compact with the Seminole Tribe giving them exclusivity over land-based gambling which are conditional on the state not regulating online gambling.
The Future of Online Gaming in Florida
Due to the conditions of the compact with the Seminole Tribe, there will likely be little movement towards a regulated expansion of gambling in Florida despite the popularity of Daily Fantasy Sports and the recent Supreme Court verdict repealing PASPA. For online poker players, the future of online gaming in Florida will remain much the same as it is today. You can play poker online – provided you play it skillfully!