Florida casinos and card rooms have long been home base for many poker players. Famous poker stars like Jason Mercier, Noah Schwartz, and the Mizrachi brothers cut their teeth at the tables in the Sunshine State. There are certain parts of the state more popular for poker than others, and the games are limited to specific types of casinos and facilities, but a resurgence of live poker tournaments in Florida has put the state back in the spotlight and increased the demand for more poker.
The live poker scene in Florida is always changing, but rarely is there a lack of live poker options for cash game and tournament players alike. At any given time, there are 25-30 poker rooms in casinos and racetracks throughout the state.
With that, online poker would be an efficient way to bring many of the rooms together through online operators. Florida is the third-largest state in America, and i-gaming of any kind is almost assured a booming business, along with millions upon millions of dollars for the state via industry taxes.
It is not happening, though, and it is unlikely to happen in the near future. There are two primary reasons:
The Seminole Tribe of Florida has had exclusive rights to full casino gaming, courtesy of the first compact signed in 2010. Then-Governor Charlie Crist and the Seminoles executed several iterations of the compact from 2007 forward, but the Florida legislature ratified and approved the April 2010 compact.
Technically, the Seminoles had been pursuing gaming rights in Florida since the 1970s, but the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 required states to negotiate in good faith with federally-recognized tribes for gaming that would benefit the tribes. The first state-approved compact of 2010 finally put the gaming rights into writing and allowed the tribes and state to benefit. The Seminoles had the exclusive right to offer slot machines, live poker, and casino-banked games like baccarat and blackjack.
Compact renewals had problems nearly every time. Governor Rick Scott famously reached an agreement for a 2015 renewal, but the legislature halted it, leading to the tribes withholding state payments for nearly three years until a new contract was signed.
In 2019, another impasse threatened the compact with then-newly-elected Governor Rick DeSantis. The primary issue was the exclusive rights to most gambling that the Seminoles had maintained since 2010. Owners of racetracks – pari-mutuel betting operators – wanted a piece of some of the gambling, and the Seminoles objected to the infringement upon their “exclusive” rights. Much of that disagreement revolved around house-banked games, but the Seminoles chose that time to propose that they have exclusive rights to online gaming.
It turned out that it wasn’t good timing at all. DeSantis objected to any i-gaming talks, and the Seminoles took the topic off the table.
In 2021, new compact renewal talks led to the Seminoles inserting exclusive rights to mobile sports wagering into the conversation. DeSantis agreed to it, and the state legislature approved the new compact in May 2021.
The Seminoles went right to work in launching the first sports betting app via its Hard Rock properties, but other entities in the state – racetracks and every other possible sports betting interest – starting filing lawsuits against the state. The Hard Rock sports app shut down by way of a court ruling that overruled the latest compact.
The court battles on the sports betting matter have continued through mid-2023. West Flagler Associates is the plaintiff, on behalf of the Bonita Springs Poker Room and Magic City Casino, at the center of the ongoing legal matter, both representing the many interests that want a piece of the sports wagering pie. In June 2023, the DC District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Seminoles’ compact, but more appeals filings continue into September 2023. As the Seminoles appear ready to launch Hard Rock Bet, the legal wrangling will not let it happen quite yet.
This is all pertinent to the future of Florida online poker and casino games.
If the Seminoles continue to prevail in their legal fight to exclusively offer sports wagering in Florida, they may be able to renegotiate their compact with the state in years to come to include other forms of betting…like i-gaming, which could very well include online poker.
The developments matter as a larger picture of gambling rights in Florida continue to take shape.
Online poker may be years away, at the very least, but live poker thrives across the state. The Seminole casinos offer some of the largest poker rooms in the Sunshine State, but there are many other rooms in racinos and associated with racetracks that offer cash games and tournaments as well.
One of the biggest draws in the Florida scene is when the World Poker Tour stops in one of its partner casinos. In 2023, the WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown took place at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Its Main Event had a $3,500 buy-in and brought in nearly 2,300 entries, creating a prize pool of more than $7.3 million. (Bin Weng won it for more than $1.1 million.) Later this year, the WPT bestbet Scramble will hit Jacksonville with a series featuring a $5K buy-in Main Event, and then the WPT Seminole Rock N Roll Poker Open will take over the Hard Rock in Hollywood – both series scheduled for November.
The WSOP Circuit is also including Florida in its schedule now, as the WSOPC offers World Series gold rings at Harrah’s Pompano Beach in October 2023 and again in February 2024.
The newly-launched Moneymaker Poker Tour started its mid-majors series at the Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach in May 2023, and it hosted another series in August at the Daytona Beach Racing & Card Club. The tour will return to Palm Beach in October 2023.
Also in the mid-majors category is the RunGood Poker Series, which landed at bestbet Jacksonville in March 2023. That tour stop offered multiple RGPS events, complete with a $1,200 buy-in Main Event. It shattered its $300K guarantee with 628 entries and an actual prize pool of $653,120.
There are nearly 30 poker rooms open for business in the summer of 2023, most of them offering some type of tournaments but all with cash games at various stakes.
The largest of the Florida poker rooms, according to Poker Atlas, are:
There may not be state-licensed online poker in Florida, but poker players in the third-most populous state in America are not refraining from the activity until Florida decides to legalize poker online.
It may come as a shock, but people in Florida are playing poker online. Many of them are doing so right now.
How do they choose where to play?
The fastest-growing trend in online poker across America, including and most certainly in Florida, is to play at a sweepstakes-based site like Global Poker. This type of online poker is legal in Florida and beyond.
The basic idea of a site like Global Poker is that players use their US currency to purchase coins/tokens on the poker site. They then play with those tokens in events that show the dollar equivalent of the cash games and tournaments, SNGs and MTTs that they play. When players win, they can take their coins and trade them for cash prizes or gift cards as a part of the withdrawal process.
As more players are becoming comfortable with the process of currency exchange to play on Global Poker, the site’s player pools are increasing exponentially. Larger online poker tournaments mean bigger guarantees and, subsequently, bigger prizes for those who make the money, especially those who go on to win tournaments. The cash games become more lucrative as well when more players log on.
There are quite a few poker operators catering to US-based players, including those in Florida. These poker sites can be quite large and offer tournament series, contests, and promotions that are hard to pass up. Many Floridians play on sites based in places like Costa Rica and licensed outside of the United States.
To date, players’ money has been safe on those sites. Players are usually able to cash out their winnings, especially as they demand more transparency from those operators. Since Black Friday and the demise of Full Tilt Poker, UltimateBet, and Absolute Poker – all sites that absconded with player funds when they shuttered – the offshore sites have provided the closest comparison to the pre-Black Friday online poker market available to Americans.
The problem – or potential problem – is that there is no law enforcement body in the US that can police those sites or enforce the regulations attached to their online poker licenses. Players must deposit and withdraw money at their own risk.
For recreational poker players, online poker is available on numerous free-play poker apps. The World Series of Poker has a popular one, though it doesn’t compare to the millions of players who log on to Zynga.
These sites sometimes offer in-app purchases, but there are no dollar amounts attached to the cash games and tournaments available. The poker is for fun, though it can be a good way for new and recreational players to hone their skills and practice strategies.