The first bit of legal gambling comes to Florida. Unsurprisingly, the bill legalizes racing and pari-mutuel betting on the outcome of the races. Both horses and dogs are permitted to race, although dog racing finally comes to an end in 2021. The racing bill passed when the legislature overrode the veto from Gov. Doyle E. Carlton. Carlton was known for his opposition to gambling and reportedly refused a $100,000 payment (bribe) to sign the bill. However, his opposition was not well-received in the state — a year prior, two men had been arrested for attempting to assassinate the governor due to his stance on gambling.
The legislature adds jai alai as a wagerable sport under Florida law. At the same time, lawmakers also make slot machines legal in the Sunshine State. Unfortunately, both activities would be plagued by troubles during the following years. Slot machines are banned only two years later in 1937, and don’t return to legal venues in the state until 2004. Jai alai flourishes for a time, but the industry tanks in the 1990s and all but disappears until recently.
Lawmakers add another type of gambling to Florida’s roster with bingo. As is the case with most states, bingo is approved for charitable organizations only. For the most part, prizes cannot be higher than $100. However, in 1979, the Seminole Tribe challenges the state on the prize amount limit and begins offering high-stakes bingo in Hollywood. To no one’s surprise, the state sues the tribe, but loses in the following year and clears the way for the debut of multiple high-stakes bingo parlors in the state.
Florida voters overwhelmingly approve the introduction of lottery games in the state. In fact, Amendment 5 passes by almost a 2 to 1 margin. The institution thus created is the Florida Lottery, and its proceeds go toward funding education endeavors in the state. In the years of the commission’s service, Florida’s schools have benefitted from more than $40 billion in contributions from ticket sales.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passes and changes the entire face of gambling in the US. Federally recognized Native American tribes are suddenly empowered to negotiate compacts with their resident state governments to open casino locations. In Florida, the two groups that fit the criteria are the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. However, the Seminoles are the only group that can offer full-service gambling options. Both are now casino owners in the state.
Poker finally becomes a legal activity in Florida — at least, in some regard. The legislature allows home games to proceed so long as pots don’t exceed a whopping $10. Because of the language of the IGRA, poker then becomes possible at the tribal locations, albeit with the same pot limits. Seven years later, in 1996, the game became legal at pari-mutuel/jai alai locations. However, it takes another 14 years and three adjustments to the law before the pot caps are removed and no-limit hold’em (among other games) becomes available.
In one of the narrowest margins of victory possible, voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow the placement of slot machines in facilities located in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Though more than 7.1 million votes are cast, “no” votes only come up short by roughly 110,000 votes. In other words, the split is actually less than 51/49. Once again, due to the language of the IGRA, the Seminoles and Miccosukees gain the ability to place slot machines at their facilities with this vote, too.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs off on a change to the Seminoles’ tribal compact that allows for the introduction of both retail and online sports betting in April. The language is highly favorable to the tribe and creates an infrastructure that would give the Seminoles a piece of every single sports bet in Florida. The change passes through both the Florida House of Representatives and the Senate in less than a month. The federal government allowed the compact to be added to the Federal Register, which does not signal approval. Multiple lawsuits are ongoing regarding the legality of the compact’s change, but sports betting in Florida could potentially begin in November.