Overview

Florida’s laws prohibiting gambling are fairly clear, and much more so than with most states.  Title 46, Section 849.08 of the 2015 Florida Statutes prohibits playing or engaging in any game of chance for anything of value, and those doing so are guilty of a misdemeanor in the second degree.

So in other words, it’s a crime to play games of chance for money, with this section giving some specific examples (one of them being faro), which gives you an idea of how old this section really is (as faro hasn’t been popular for a very long time).  In fact, the section was written in 1895, when the game was fairly popular.

Cards is the first game mentioned here though, and cards are of course used in poker, so on the face this would at least seem to include poker.  There’s no question that this prohibits certain games, including casino games based purely on chance for instance, like roulette or craps.  The law specifically mentions roulette and keno in addition to faro and games involving cards.

By mentioning cards, we may wonder whether the law prohibits betting on any card game or just any card game involving chance, or substantially based upon chance.  Other states have looked at poker for instance as far as whether it is substantially a game of skill or chance, and if it is found to be substantially based upon skill, it may fall outside the scope of the law against betting on chance games.

However, in this case, the law does state that anyone who engages in a game of cards for any thing of value is breaking the law, not just prohibiting games of chance, ad the fact that any other game of chance is included doesn’t take away from this.  The law doesn’t specify betting on certain games of cards, ones involving chance for instance, it simply prohibits betting on card games period, and poker is a card game, and a very popular one in fact.

So does this mean there is no legal poker playing for money in Florida?  Section 8409.068, “Cardrooms Authorized,” sets out the conditions where playing poker is legal, where the game is authorized and played at a licensed cardroom.  Authorized here is set out in the definitions to mean a game played in a non banking manner.

So non banking means players playing against each other, and not the house.  So casino poker is a banking game, and wouldn’t be allowed, but a regular poker game with the house running the game for a fee or a rake, with the players playing hands against one another, would not be a banking game and therefore would fall under the definition of an authorized game.

There’s also the requirement of the game being licensed, which means that the cardroom that it is played at would have a license granted to them by the state to offer such games.

So this is similar to California law, which allows licensed cardrooms offering poker, although licensed poker playing isn’t even close to being as big as it is in California.  This is due to the second part, the licensing requirement, and Florida hasn’t been anywhere near as willing to grant licenses for cardrooms, so far limiting them to racinos for the most part, as opposed to the many dedicated licensed cardrooms in California, including some of the largest in the country.

Is It Legal To Play Online Poker In Florida?

The general provisions against gambling in Florida do include gambling on any device, and that could be understood to include gambling on a computer as well, in spite of the section being written 100 years prior to playing poker for money on a computer first became possible.

So playing online in itself would fall under the umbrella of prohibited gambling, engaging in a game of cards “on any device whatsoever,” which includes of course doing so while in the state of Florida, although this is where the playing would be taking place and it would not matter where the servers are located, as it might with the laws of some states who focus on the legality of the gambling arena more.

So in other words some states first look to determine whether the venue is legal or not under state law, and if it isn’t, then playing there isn’t.  This can cast a shadow on the legality of playing at venues hosted outside the state, but in Florida, the focus is on the player, on playing, so it’s clear that one is playing poker for money when playing online and that is all that would be needed here to violate the law prima facie.

I’m not aware of anyone else bringing this up before, but we do know that any gambling in Florida at certain games, including poker, is legal provided that the winnings do not exceed $10, and this would apply to online poker as well, as there’s no provisions to exclude this or any other form of poker.

The legality of this is not by way of exclusion, meaning something is legal because there are no provisions against it, in this case it is legal by way of inclusion, with the law specifically mentioning these conditions and specifically declaring them to be legal.  So legal by inclusion is much stronger and can’t even be argued with if the inclusion is clear, as it is here.

So this is actually a big deal, as small stakes online poker would be perfectly legal here, although playing for bigger pots would require that they be played at online establishments licensed by the State of Florida, and there are none.  This would require licensed and regulated online poker here, which does not exist yet.

Regardless though, people play online poker for whatever size pots they want, and having a law against something and having it enforced are two separate things.  Such a law is extremely difficult to enforce anyway, due to the nature of the way that the games are played, privately, so while some players may worry about this, there does not seem to be any reason to based upon the practicality of the matter.

Live Poker Options In Florida

There are 8 Indian casinos and 25 “racinos” that offer live poker in Florida, in addition to the state recently getting its first dedicated cardroom.  The racinos are primarily focused on horse and dog racing, and offer a little poker on the side, so these tend to be very small poker rooms, although if you want to play poker and there’s an open seat at a table, it doesn’t matter how many other tables there are.

The Indian casinos, and there are some huge ones here, offer plenty of live poker action, particularly the ones owned by the Seminole tribe, who run a multi billion dollar operation including not only Hard Rock branded Florida casinos, but also the Hard Rock company itself with hotels, casinos, and restaurants around the world.

While the licensing of non Indian cardrooms has been quite conservative thus far, we’re starting to see that open up with a large cardroom opening up in Jacksonville now, featuring the largest poker room in the state with 70 tables, and we may see more of this California style expansion in the coming years.

Home Poker Games in Florida

In addition to allowing poker to be played in licensed cardrooms, the law also allows for small stakes games, which can be played anywhere.  The provision dealing with this, in Section 849.085(a), sets forth several games that can be played legally, and specifically mentions poker, provided the winnings of a single hand do not exceed $10 in value.

So if pots do not exceed $10, the home poker game would be legal, but if it did exceed this amount, it would not be, and games that do have these bigger pots would have to be played at licensed cardrooms –  or at one of the Indian casinos in the state – which operate outside this legal framework due to the recognized sovereignty of certain Indian tribes.

The Future of Online Poker in Florida

There has been some progress made with gambling regulation in Florida recently, but it’s been limited to looking to expand the licensing of land based gambling facilities.  So this may mean that we may see even more poker rooms open up in the state, and Florida has a lot of people and a lot of gamblers as well, and the market hasn’t been anywhere near fully tapped yet.

Land-based gaming operators often see online gambling as a threat to their business, even though it’s been shown that this isn’t really the case, as online gambling and land based gambling are distinct experiences , and a lot of the business that online gambling captures is outside the reach of land based gambling.  It’s not that people are going to visit cardrooms or casinos every evening, these are excursions rather than a part of one‘s everyday activities.

This competition already exists though, and land-based interests need to realize that, as Florida residents already can gamble and play poker online to their heart’s content.  The only thing regulation would change is that these interests would be given an opportunity to profit themselves from it rather than seeing all the profits go offshore as they do now.

We’re a ways away from that though, but in the mean time, to players, it doesn’t matter, as several good online poker sites are already very willing to let them play on their sites.