Florida gambling laws are a random patchwork of various competing interests. Now, lawmakers are attempting to change that through structure. Legislators introduced three bills in the state Senate this week. The bills hope to bring some organization and logic to the state’s betting markets.

However, none of the bills call for a dramatic expansion of Florida gambling laws. Unlike New York, regulated sports betting is not on the table. Florida politicians hope to create a more workable environment for gamblers. Another goal of these bills is to push a renegotiation of compacts between the state and Native American tribes.

Florida Gambling Laws Restrict Tribal Interests

Currently, Florida’s Seminole tribe is attempting to renegotiate its gambling compact with Governor Ron DeSantis. The Seminole tribe used to have an exclusive right to offer casino games in the state. However, the tribe stopped paying the state a share of casino revenue in 2019.

This was after winning a lawsuit against Florida. The lawsuit alleged the state had not done enough to enforce the Seminole’s exclusive license. It is estimated the breach of the compact costs Florida $350 million per year.

casino craps table

Now, Governor DeSantis is trying to renegotiate a compact with the Seminoles. One proposal would allow them to finally offer craps and roulette on casino floors. Another incentive could have been legalizing sports betting, both retail and mobile. But now those ideas are off the table.

Updated Gambling Bills Would Modernize Regulation

Florida state Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) brought the three bills after hopes for an expanded compact faded. However, the bills still aim to modernize Florida gambling laws. A smoother regulatory environment would help build trust between the Seminole tribe and state government.

The first bill, SPB 7076, would create a Florida Gaming Control Commission. As of now, there is no dedicated regulator and enforcement agency for gaming in Florida. The second bill, SPB 7078, would exempt criminal investigations taken by the new Commission from public records laws.

Taken together, a new Gaming Control Commission would have broad power to punish bad actors. The lack of enforcement against card rooms and other “grey area” gaming caused the Seminoles to sue. A Commission with actual teeth could get them back on board with revenue sharing.

A New Method for Pari-Mutuel Florida Gambling Laws

The final bill, SPB 7080, would create new avenues for gaming at former racetracks. After Floridians banned greyhound racing as of 2021, numerous pari-mutuel tracks have struggled to maintain compliance. Under current Florida gambling laws, a track must offer live events to also run more lucrative card rooms. This legislation would decouple such requirements.

Gulfstream Park
Postcard from Gulfstream Park

If SPB 7080 passed, only Gulfstream Park near Miami and Tampa Bay Downs would need to run live racing. Other former greyhound tracks, harness racing venues, and jai-alai frontons could apply to offer stand-alone card rooms. There would no longer be a requirement of some pari-mutuel betting tied to the operation.

Unfortunately, this provision may cause additional conflict with the Seminole tribe. Unlike the Gaming Commission, the tribe would not benefit from competing card rooms having lower overhead costs.

Florida Casino Expansion on Hold

With Senate President Simpson introducing these bills just this week, Florida will not be overhauling its gambling laws this year. The 2021 legislative session in Florida ends on April 30, so there is just not enough time. In fact, it is possible none of the three bills become law.

This is despite powerful and rich Floridians advocating for a more open gambling environment. Jeffrey Soffer has been arguing to transfer a casino license to the Fontainebleau Hotel on South Beach. The billionaire owner of the hotel has enlisted Tom Brady and his army of lobbyists, so far to no success.

There is also the matter of former President Donald Trump and his Trump National Doral golf facility. Eric Trump stated that Doral is “unmatched from a gaming perspective.” Though Trump’s history with gambling is rocky at best, he has a key ally in Governor DeSantis. But even the former president will have to wait at least another year.

With time running in this year’s legislative session, it does not seem a comprehensive expansion is coming. Updating Florida gambling laws will be done at the margins. If lawmakers can simply revive the compact with the Seminole tribe, that will likely be considered a success.

Joe Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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