Florida is on the cusp of becoming the largest state in the USA to legalize sports betting if the new gaming compact passes through the last two steps in the legislative process. Assuming there are no hitches, it will make the Seminole Tribe of Florida the exclusive operator of digital sports books throughout the state for the next 30 years.
It will also allow them to build three new Florida casinos. However, while the sports betting will cover both land-based and online transactions, web-based casino gaming will remain off-limits.
Everyone’s a winner?
There’s an old saying about gambling that the house always wins. But while this is clearly a lucrative opportunity for the tribal operator, there are potentially plenty more winners here. In return for the exclusive rights, the tribe will pay a guaranteed minimum of $500 million per year into state coffers – and potentially more. Recent events mean that Florida is staring a $2 billion budget deficit in the face, so it be exactly the deal that everyone has been looking for.
However, gambling remains an emotive topic, and there are no guarantees. The Florida legislature is assembling this week for a special session, and there are multiple agendas, not to mention ideologies, that will come into play. There’s also the question of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) compliance. This states that gaming activities covered by tribal-state compacts may only take place on lands within reservations. Clearly, the state-wide nature of the proposed compact contravenes this, and there is every chance that the process will become bogged down in litigation.
Changes to casino gaming
While sports betting is the main headline, the compact also makes some changes to casino gaming regulations – but not in the way that many expected. Web-based gambling has exploded in popularity, especially over the past year, both in the US and internationally. Indeed, the best slots sites online can attract players from as far away as Australia and Europe. Yet while many states are tweaking their gaming laws to include online casinos, a spokeswoman for Governor DeSantis confirmed that online casino gambling will remain illegal under state law.
It is a regulation that flies in the face of current gambling trends. Over the past 18 months or so, we’ve been seeking online alternatives for all our favorite pastimes. In the specific case of casino gaming, that has simply served to accelerate what was already a noticeable migration from land-based casinos to online platforms.
What’s happening here mirrors the well-publicized situation in Australia, where despite the generally relaxed attitude towards gambling, Australian casino businesses are prohibited from operating online. When you look closely at a site like australiancasinosites.com, you can see that all the websites listed are actually based offshore.
All this means that Australian gamblers can still play games online, but the sites they use are not licensed by the nation’s gambling regulator. Yes, there are plenty of trustworthy operators like the ones mentioned above, but there are as many that are more disreputable in nature. Furthermore, the government derives zero tax revenue.
The Australian situation is interesting because it is easy to see Florida facing an identical set of circumstances sooner rather than later. The issue is that the internet has no conception of international or state boundaries. Where there is demand, which there clearly is in this case, someone will always come up with supply, and offshore gambling sites are going to see Florida as a lucrative hunting ground for new customers.
Games people play
The current legal reforms presented a perfect opportunity to grasp that particular nettle and ensure Florida does not go down the same road and make the same mistakes as Australia. Instead of doing so, however, the compact takes the somewhat less contentious step of addressing a peculiarity of Florida gambling law that has mystified gamers for years.
Look closely at a casino in Florida compared with one in Las Vegas or Atlantic City and you’ll notice the lack of roulette wheels or craps tables. That’s because these games have been specifically prohibited in Florida till now. It’s not because there is anything Florida lawmakers find particularly distasteful about the games, it’s simply a case of only specific table games, such as poker and blackjack, being permitted on a case by case basis. Roulette and craps have never quite managed to make the cut.
The exclusion led to a slightly bizarre set of circumstances whereby automated games that looked like roulette and had the same rules as roulette but were, as was successfully demonstrated in court, actually slot games, began appearing in Florida casinos. The same happened with a “craps-type” game that was operated by a mechanical device instead of a croupier.
That particular brand of surreal nonsense could soon come to an end. If the compact is approved, this slightly bizarre exclusion will be lifted and the craps tables and roulette wheels will be able to stand alongside the slots, baccarat and blackjack without having to pretend to be something they are not.
Changing attitudes and new technology have made gambling one of the hottest topics in state legislatures across the USA. Florida is no different, but the wheels of law and politics can be slow to rotate. As is the case across the United States, and indeed the world, however, change is in the air. Gambling, whether it is on sports or casino games, is not seen as the dangerous or immoral pastime that it was in years gone by – or at least, not to the same extent.
The simple fact is that it is what people want and it can generate significant tax revenue. Neither of these are factors that legislators have the luxury of ignoring in the world of 2021.
For sure, there could be plenty more twists and turns before Floridians are placing sports bets from their cell phones. Still, there is a sense that it is only a question of time.