The southernmost contiguous state of America, Florida, is also the 22nd most extensive and 3rd most populous. The name means “land of flowers” in Spanish, and the state is renowned for its sunny days, tropical climate, amusement parks, space centre, alligators, orange crops, and as a popular retirement destination. It also has one of the sunniest attitudes when it comes to gambling, although this leans more towards land-based than online. In other words, land-based gambling is perfectly legal, while online gambling inhabits a bit of a grey zone where it’s illegal, but also not…more on that later. As for social online gambling, which includes fun play casinos, mobile social casinos, free play online casinos, free fun online slots, social casino apps and Facebook casinos, there’s zero grey about it, as these involve no exchanging of money, which makes them perfectly legal for residents of Florida to play at.
To get a clearer picture of gambling in the state of Florida, let’s take a look at the history of gambling here, as well as what specifically is legal, and what is not, when it comes to land-based and online gambling.
A History of Gambling in Florida
The Sunshine State has an intricate and colourful gambling history, with conservative politicos and organised crime syndicates battling it out for over a century. The first casino was built at St. Augustine by the famous industrialist, Henry Flagler, in the late 1800s – it catered specifically to high rollers, and it was quite illegal. Meanwhile, Bolita, which means “little ball” in Spanish and bears similarities to the game of Bingo, was also playing quite a prominent role. By the 1920s, this Cuban import had gone underground and was being controlled by the mafia, until a crackdown occurred in the 1940s.
As for sports betting, Jai-Alai was introduced in 1926. This is a fast-paced ball game that takes place in a 3-sided court – at the time it was considered a legal sport, but not a legal betting event. By 1935, it, along with slot machines, was legalised in Florida, although slots were made illegal a mere 2 years later and then legal again a couple of years thereafter. Pari-mutuel betting with regards to horse and greyhound racing was legalised in 1932, however, when racinos looked to expand from just racing and card games, to include slot machines, they met with stiff resistance from the Seminole tribe.
As with most states in the US, Native American tribes like the Seminole were granted rights to operate casinos on tribal lands. The Seminoles hit the jackpot in 1979 with their first bingo hall and by 2004, were doing a booming business when slots were legalised in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, thus opening the gates for even more business to flood into their casinos. The $3 Billion compact the state has made with the Seminole tribe has prompted some to call for the creation of a Florida Gaming Commission, but to date this has not occurred.
Another breakthrough occurred in 2010 when the maximum bet in poker was relaxed and as a result, many of the land-based casinos in Florida became home to some of the top tournaments in the world. When it comes to online gambling, however, a setback occurred in 2013 when Internet cafés, acting as facades for gambling games, were barred outright in the state. This resulted in Florida interpreting computers, tablets and smartphones as potential gambling machines, so there’s a big chance these could also be viewed as illegal. Since then, new bills have been passed relaxing the statutes somewhat, and the legalisation of online poker could become a possibility.
Take note that the state has a history of going after racketeers or organisers, as opposed to actual players of online games, which is why playing at a fully licensed and regulated offshore online casino is always an option for Floridians, as are fun play casinos if entertainment is the goal, rather than money.
What Types of Gambling are Currently Legal?
The legal gambling age for anyone in Florida is either 18 (lottery, horse and dog racing, poker and online poker, bingo and online bingo) or 21 (land-based casinos, online casinos, online sports betting), depending on the type of gambling and where you are playing. So what exactly is legal and what is not?
- Casino Games: Yes. Florida has some of the world’s most renowned land-based casinos, many of which are based on Seminole tribal lands, like Hard Rock Café. Floridians can also take cruises 3km out to international waters, where they can play casino games that include roulette and craps, which are not found in the land-based casinos.
- Lottery Betting: Yes, there is a state lottery in Florida, as well as PowerBall.
- Online Casinos: No, recent legislation has made this explicitly illegal. There is even a chance that the bill has made any device that can be used for gambling illegal too – that could potentially include every phone, computer or tablet. But, as we’ve stated above, the state has only ever gone after people or organisations attempting to operate online gambling businesses from within the state. As someone who is playing, you can still gamble online at licensed and regulated offshore casinos like Bovada, WinPalace. Aladdin’s Gold, Lucky Red, Mona, All Star Slots and High Noon, to name just a few – these online casinos are happy to accept players from Florida. Also take note that no-one has ever been arrested for playing online gambling games.
- Free Play Online Gaming: Yes. If you are someone who would rather not take the risk of playing at any online casino, you can do a search for free fun online slots, Facebook casinos, mobile social casinos, fun play casinos, or free play online casinos, and play to your heart’s content – as entertainment is the main goal here, and absolutely no money is being exchanged, this is a perfectly legal option.
- Live Poker Games: Yes, there are card rooms connected to racinos and tribal casinos.
- Online Poker Games: No, as this falls under the same law banning Internet café casinos. However, there have not been any arrests made for playing online poker games, and you can still play at selected offshore poker sites like Bovada without fear of recrimination. Also, there is a strong chance that online poker within the state could become legal in the near future, so watch this space.
- Sports Betting: Yes, pari-mutuel betting on dog and horse racing is legal, plus you can bet on Jai-Alai, a regional ball game.
- Online Sports Betting: No, but like online casino games, there are offshore online sports betting sites like Bovada Sportsbook, BetOnline, 5Dimes and BetOnline that accept Floridians.
- Bingo Games: Yes, raffles and charity bingo games are allowed, plus bingo can be enjoyed at the Seminole tribe casinos.
In The Sunshine State, there are loads of opportunities to enjoy casino games, bingo and poker at land-based casinos, while cruise ships are available for games like roulette and craps. As for online gambling, the state of Florida has made it illegal, but they’ve only gone after people operating online casino sites from within Florida’s borders, and no actual player has ever been arrested. It’s therefore perfectly legal to play at licensed offshore online casinos that accept Floridians. Plus, if money is not the object, you can try out fun play casinos, free fun online slots and more, for enjoyable and free entertainment. Have fun and be safe!