Florida is home to numerous betting options both online and in the real world. Legal online gaming in Florida currently includes horse racing betting, greyhound betting and daily fantasy sports. In the physical realm, Florida has horse racing betting, bingo, traditional casinos and jai alai betting.
Sports betting in Florida does not appear likely at this time. The state has long been eyed as a major potential market for sports betting, but changes to state law have made any future gambling expansions more difficult as they now require a statewide referendum initiated by petition.
Legal Online Betting Options
Let’s start with a quick list of legal Florida betting sites and then dig into all the details below.
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Horse and Greyhound Racing
Online horse racing and greyhound betting have been legal in Florida for years and a number of major racing sites accept customers from the Sunshine State. BetAmerica, TwinSpires and TVG all accept Florida customers and are licensed right here in the United States.
In November 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 13 to end greyhound racing. The amendment made greyhound racing and betting on live greyhound races held in Florida illegal starting on January 1st, 2021.
Existing racetracks will still be allowed to offer poker and other games after the amendment takes effect, but they will no longer be able to host live greyhound races. This amendment also has no effect on online greyhound racing, which will remain legal because the amendment only seeks to stop wagers placed on races held in the state.
The legal situation for fantasy sports in Florida is complicated and unclear, but most daily fantasy sites have served the state for years with no interference from local officials.
Multiple attempts to formally legalize fantasy sports in Florida have failed over the years due to disputes over how the activity should be categorized and the complexity of tribal gaming contracts between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
A 1991 Attorney General opinion lumped season-long fantasy sports in with gambling and opined that it is probably illegal under state law, but the opinion is outdated and does not hold legal weight. As much as lawmakers would like to clarify the legal status of fantasy sports, progress has been slow. In the meantime, Florida residents are accepted at both FanDuel and DraftKings:
Florida gambling law permits games of skill only if entry fees do not directly contribute to the prize pool. What this means is that it is legal to pay an entry fee and compete for a fixed prize, but not to play in a contest where all the entry fees are collected to form the prize pool itself.
For example, it would be legal to host a paid-entry golf tournament if the organizers set fixed prizes that do not change regardless of how many people enter the tournament. That same tournament would cross the line into illegal territory if prizes were determined by pooling entry fees and paying the winners a percentage of the prize pool.
A 1990 opinion from the Attorney General summed it up as follows:
“Accordingly, I am of the opinion that a contest of skill, such as a hole-in-one golf contest, where the contestant pays an entry fee, which does not make up the prize, for the opportunity to win a valuable prize by the exercise of skill, does not violate the gambling laws of this state. To the extent that previous opinions of this office may be inconsistent with the conclusion reached herein, they are hereby modified.”
WorldWinner.com, which is currently the largest skill gaming site, accepts residents of Florida but restricts them from certain contests in which the prize pool is not fixed. Follow the link below to read more about WorldWinner:
What about the state lottery?
Florida DOES NOT sell lottery tickets online nor does it offer a subscription service. Of course, you can always try your luck at unauthorized lottery resellers that you can find online. I don’t recommend going that route though. It is still illegal to sell lottery tickets online in Florida so any site involved in the business is completely unregulated and most likely located overseas.
Nobody really knows how safe or legit overseas lottery resellers are. They claim to have a staff of agents located around the world whose job it is to go around and purchase lottery tickets on behalf of customers. The problem is there’s no way to verify how it really works.
If you want to play the lottery, it’s best to just go buy your tickets in person. You really don’t want to leave the fate of your $40 million jackpot in the hands of some foreign, quasi-legal website. States do have the authority to sell tickets online, but Florida does not yet do that.
Sports Betting in Florida
Sports betting is illegal for aside from two exceptions: jai alai betting and cruise ships that sail into international waters to offer sports betting.
The exemption for jai alai betting dates back to a time in Florida during which jai alai was much bigger than the obscure sport it is today. Jai alai came to Florida in the 1920s, and eventually the state became somewhat of an epicenter for jai alai players around the world owing to warm weather year-round and easy access from Spain and Latin America, where jai alai is popular.
During its heyday, jai alai was even exempted from state and federal sports betting prohibitions. Jai alai maintained a strong presence in Florida through the 1970s but entered a steady decline in the 1980s amid increasing competition from professional sports teams, the lottery and South Florida casinos.
Today, jai alai is a fairly niche sport and there are only a handful of active frontons in operation today. For the most part, jai alai survives today primarily due to Florida gambling laws that require card rooms to offer some form of parimutuel wagering (such as jai alai, greyhound racing or horse racing betting). Thus, most jai alai frontons exist primarily to facilitate other forms of gaming.
The other “exception” to Florida’s sports betting prohibition occurs on the cruise ships operated by Victory Casino Cruises. Victory Casino Cruise ships depart twice a day from Port Canaveral. These ships sail out into international waters, open a casino and sportsbook for a few hours and then come back to shore later that same day.
As far as a widespread legalization of sports betting, Florida does not appear likely to expand its gambling options any time soon. There have been no efforts to introduce sports betting legislation and there have been no recent efforts to legalize sports betting.
A report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming listed the 32 states most likely to legalize sports betting within five years of a Supreme Court ruling overturning the federal prohibition of sports betting. Florida was not included in that list, but it was included in a supplemental list of 12 additional states likely to legalize sports betting within seven years of such a ruling.
Will Sports Betting Ever Be Legalized in Florida?
Aside from the exceptions detailed above, sports betting remains illegal in Florida and that is unlikely to change any time soon. Florida has a complicated mix of competing interests involving lawmakers, Tribal concerns and even the Disney company that all have their own opinions on the expansion of gambling.
The odds of Florida legalizing sports betting any time soon took a further hit in 2018 when voters approved a ballot measure that essentially stripped the state legislature from authorizing any gambling expansion, including sports betting.
Previously, the state legislature could have potentially drafted a new law to make Florida sports betting legal. Under the new amendment, Florida citizens would have to initiate a campaign to collect signatures to put the issue to a statewide referendum. Then, voters would have to approve that referendum by 60% to make sports betting legal. It’s possible, but not very likely at this time.
Is it legal to bet online in Florida?
It depends on what your definition of “legal” is. A few forms of online betting are explicitly legal in Florida (horses, greyhounds, fantasy and skill). It is clearly illegal to operate an online casino, card room or any other business that accepts wagers without the proper licensing.
What isn’t clear is whether or not it is a crime to place bets online at unlicensed betting sites. The key text in Florida’s gambling laws reads as follows:
“849.08 Gambling. 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…”
It seems pretty clear that this law makes it a misdemeanor crime to participate in obvious gambling games such as slot machines, blackjack, craps and so on. The part that says “by any device whatever” is easily interpreted to include the internet. However, the state has never once prosecuted a single person for the mere act of placing bets online. Hunting down people playing blackjack on their computers just isn’t a high priority.
Online poker is a different matter. The above law does not explicitly mention “poker” although it does mention “any game at cards.” But – there’s always a but – the phrase “other game of chance” seems to imply that only games of chance are forbidden. If poker isn’t a game of chance, this law doesn’t apply.
It doesn’t end there, folks. You and I may not consider poker a game of chance, but certain state and federal laws most definitely do define poker as exactly that. Florida law doesn’t define games of chance nor does it mention poker and there is no case law to fall back on.
Someone would have to push the matter before we ever get Florida’s opinion on the matter of poker being skill or luck. This probably won’t happen any time soon because nobody is hunting down poker players either.
What the Future Holds for Internet Gambling in Florida
An increasing number of states are in the process of legalizing online poker and casino games after a federal judge ruled in 2011 that the Wire Act of 1961 only applies to sports betting. Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have already legalized either internet poker, casino games or both. State legislators in Florida have not yet moved to change anything. No legislation is pending at this time.
It doesn’t look like anything will be changing in Florida any time soon either. The state is mostly opposed to the expansion of internet gambling. In April of 2014, Florida governor Rick Scott expressed his opposition to expanding online betting at the federal level with a letter directed to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
In the years since, there have been no real efforts to change Florida gambling laws. The current status quo appears quite likely to remain as it is for the foreseeable future.