Considering the girth of the United States of America, there aren’t a whole lot of things going on at present in regards to online poker regulation on a state by state basis. Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have passed laws to legalize and regulate the industry within their borders, a few other states have pending legislation on the matter, but the majority of the US is sitting idle on the topic for now. In contrast, legislators in Florida have been very busy incorporating laws directed at online poker and internet gaming in general, but not for the better.
In April of 2013, the Florida Senate passed a bill to ban internet cafes after a huge scandal that involved the Allied Veterans of the World, an organization responsible for running 49 of the state’s internet cafes. It was discovered that the group had ‘misappropriated’ $300 million through online gambling activities in their cafes; funds that should have been dispersed to veterans’ charities, not syphoned into the bank accounts of the owners of the organization. With that in mind, the bill SB 1030 – designed to ban internet cafes in Florida – made an expedient run through Senate and landed on the governor’s desk, where it was signed into effect just one week later.
Legality of Online Poker Florida
What happened next was a colossal domino effect wherein the end result was the absolute prohibition of online poker, gambling or anything else involving gaming over the internet, and then some. The language of the bill, officially enacted as HB 155, was so ambiguously written that it didn’t just ban internet cafes. It criminalized online sweepstakes, bingo, poker, casino amusements and any other gaming activity that can be conducted electronically via the world wide web. For a brief period, it actually banned the use of all devices capable of accessing such games – including mobile phones and laptop computers, but law makers were quick to reverse that blunder with a few necessary amendments.
Let’s take a closer look at the verbiage of Florida’s new online poker laws to get a better idea of how the state handles such matters. We’ll also look into any potential for future regulation that may exist in the Sunshine State.
Florida Statues – Prohibition of Electronic Gambling Devices
The following text is taken directly from the ‘corrected copy’ of CS/HB 155. Note that some verbose text was eliminated to improve fluency, without alleviating the meaning.
Section 4. Section 849.16, Florida Statutes, is amended to read:
849.16 Machines or devices which come within provisions of law defined.—
(1) As used in this chapter, the term “slot machine or device” means any machine or device or system or network of devices that is adapted for use in such a way that, upon activation, which may be achieved by, but is not limited to, the insertion of any piece of money, coin, account number, code, or other object or information, such device or system is directly or indirectly caused to operate or may be operated and if the user, whether by application of skill or by reason of any element of chance or any other outcome unpredictable by the user, may:
(a) Receive or become entitled to receive any… thing of value, or… which may be exchanged for any… thing of value or which may be given in trade…
This next citation is an excerpt from the original, long-standing Florida Statues that prohibit specific forms of gambling, including the amended online gaming law listed above:
Whoever plays or engages in any game at cards, keno, roulette, faro or other game of chance, at any place, by any device whatever, for money or other thing of value, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree…
Note that poker games are only legal if played in a state licensed gaming facility; or in a “dwelling” if they fall under the guidelines of a “Penny-ante game”, wherein the pot for a single hand never exceeds a maximum of $10 (ref. Florida Statutes 849.085).
There is plenty more reading available on the state’s online poker laws, but those provided above should be sufficient in defining the legalities of online poker in Florida. If you’d like to read them in full, please use the links above.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Florida?
Florida’s definition of gambling clearly aims at criminalizing games of chance in general, but the amendments of HB 155 extend the law’s reach to outlaw games of skill as well. Thus whether the state of Florida defines poker as a game of chance or skill is of no consequence. Gambling if any kind over any electronic device that accesses the internet is strictly prohibited in the Sunshine State.
Is Florida working to regulate online poker?
Unfortunately, the state of Florida is in such an uproar over the enactment of anti-internet gambling laws that regulation and legalization of online poker doesn’t look to be on the Senate’s docket for quite some time. In their favor is the simple fact that poker is such a wide-spread activity in the Sunshine State, at least throughout licensed, land-based card rooms. There are multiple major poker events taking place in Florida each year, including WSOP Circuit events and WPT tournaments.
In the past, legislative attempts have been made to regulate online poker in Florida. In 2010, Rep. Joseph Abruzzo introduced HB 1441, Internet Poker Consumer Protection and Revenue Generation Act of 2010. This piece of legislation would have legalized online poker on an intrastate level, but after landing on the laps of the Business & Financial Affair Policy Committee in March of that year, it was never voiced, much less signed and passed on to the next committee for review.