No Chances for Online Poker in Florida’s Draft Gambling Reform Bill

The Florida State Senate Gaming Committee held a meeting on Feb 10 to discuss a draft gambling reform bill that could be introduced at the legislative session of this year.

The state recruited a consulting firm and paid it $400k to prepare a report on its gambling industry last year. Florida’s legislature is now ready to propose a comprehensive gambling reform bill based on this report to rectify its existing gambling laws.

During the meeting of Feb 10, Committee Chair Senator Richter spoke briefly about the draft bill and the other committee members commented on it and asked questions. The bill proposes the creation of a gambling commission to supervise different forms of gambling in the state, except the state lottery. It also proposes integrating the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering into the newly created gambling commission. Currently, this division regulates poker rooms, slots parlors, dog racing, and horse racing. The bill not only proposes updating the present statutory framework to support this move, but also suggest expansion of gambling activities.

The committee also discussed a number of gambling issues that they feel the bill must encompass, such as online poker, advance deposit betting, and legalization of destination casinos. Several committee members spoke about the possibilities of including online poker, mentioning that it was a skill-based game and therefore not like other forms of gambling. However, the senators were not very optimistic that online poker will be included in the bill.

The very size of this bill, however, dims the chances of its success. In the recent past, the legislature has made it quite clear that it is not very optimistic about any changes being implemented in Florida’s gambling industry. Since the elections are just around the corner, many feel that nothing will be done to amend the state’s gambling laws in the near future. Other experts are of the opinion that something will be done only if a compromise is reached with opponents of gambling expansion in the state.

One such compromise would be the amendment of laws, but a referendum vote will have to be held before the state’s gambling laws can be changed. If this happens, it will be the citizens of Florida, and not its legislature, who will have to make major decisions. This will, in turn, make the legalization of online poker difficult.

The Senate Gaming Committee expects to finish drafting this bill by Feb 24. If the legislative assembly passes a bill that suggests amending existing gambling laws, but not the legalization of online poker, players cannot expect the game to be legalized in the state in the near future.

Those interested in the online poker issue must put in some efforts to make this possible. They must get in touch with the Senate Gaming Committee and convince them that online poker is of great importance and that it deserves a mention in the draft bill.

The Florida legislative session is scheduled to begin on March 3, and any updates regarding gambling issues in the state are going to be interesting.

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