Is online gambling legal in Florida?
Most online gambling isn’t legal in the Sunshine State. Concerning traditional casino games, online betting isn’t allowed. Furthermore, there isn’t any indication that this will change anytime soon.
However, Florida gamblers can bet on horse races through advance deposit wagering apps. Several are available in the state, but the most popular is the FanDuel-owned TVG.
Additionally, sports betting in Florida will certainly be available online. Online betting was the only option during the brief period in November 2021 when sports betting was available. There’s almost no scenario in which sports betting returns to Florida and online sportsbooks aren’t available.
Online casino games still have quite a wait
The negotiations of the 2021 Florida gaming compact highlighted the problems associated with online gambling in Florida. Politicians in the legislature are drawing a clear distinction between online sports betting and everything else.
In April 2021, there were several reports that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe of Florida agreed to a “miscellaneous” section of the compact that could bring all forms of online gambling to Florida. The section stated that the state would negotiate in “good faith” with the tribe to offer online casino games, including poker.
Just before the deal was finalized and the compact was sent to the legislature, that part was removed from the compact. Local media outlets said it was to ensure a smooth passage in the legislature.
It got the smooth passage they were looking for. In a special session, the House passed the compact by a 97-17 margin, while the Senate voted 39-1 to approve the deal. But the move shows what type of political appetite there is for online casinos in Florida.
Even with sweeping support, DeSantis and the Seminoles felt it would be too risky to add those provisions to the deal. Those demographics are unlikely to change during the next few election cycles.
Large and fractured market adds to grim outlook for online casinos
In a way, the difficulty Florida is experiencing regarding sports betting’s legalization provides insight into how hard it can be for any gambling expansion to happen in the state.
As is the case with other large states, Florida struggles with the fact that there are powerful stakeholders that are at odds with one another and are fighting for a larger piece of the proverbial pie.
The Seminole Tribe is the largest of those stakeholders. The tribe has exclusivity on casino gaming in Florida and must be included in any gambling expansion discussion. They also are a significant piece of the state’s annual budget.
Revenue-sharing payments from the tribe’s casino locations send roughly $350 million to state coffers yearly.
Furthermore, the tribe isn’t shy about weaponizing these payments. The tribe withheld payment from the state multiple times when they were unsatisfied with something in the market. As a result, any new gambling would have to give the Seminoles a hefty segment of the market share.
But at the same time, there are plenty of other interested parties. The numerous pari-mutuel facilities and racinos have an obvious financial interest as well. None of those businesses would want to lose market share to an expanding Seminole operation. It’s the crux of the problem behind Florida sports betting.
Everyone wants a piece of Florida sports betting
Despite so many groups wanting a piece of the Florida sports betting market, the compact gave a near-monopoly to the Seminole Tribe. They were given exclusivity over the online betting market and pari-mutuels that opened brick-and-mortar books would do so as a vendor of the tribe.
Consequently, the ownership group of two pari-mutuels filed lawsuits over the ‘hub-and-spoke’ sports betting model. West Flagler Associates filed both state and federal lawsuits over the provisions.
Their state-level suit was tossed out of court. But in November 2021, a federal judge ruled in their favor. Judge Dabney Friedrich said the model violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Therefore, she invalidated the entire compact.
Even though the pari-mutuel facilities don’t have the same political power as the Seminoles, they still have enough resources to fight for their piece of the proverbial pie.
Other major operators don’t want to get closed out
Outside entities are also vying for the ability to serve the Florida market. Online sports betting giants FanDuel and DraftKings funded a failed 2022 ballot initiative that would’ve allowed non-Florida companies to operate online sportsbooks in the Sunshine State.
The initiative failed to even get on the ballot for the 2022 election cycle, but the Florida Supreme Court already gave the PACs a head start on their efforts for 2024. DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said he was “confident” their initiative will be in front of voters in two years.
The bottom line is that the bigger the state, the more complex it becomes to pass new gambling laws. No gambling expansion in large states like Florida, Texas or California can proceed without an extraordinarily deft compromise written into the legislation. Therefore, any legal online gambling that may come to the state will necessarily require a lot of bargaining and very likely a lot of time as well.