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How legalizing gambling will benefit Florida’s economy

| Staff Report |

Gambling is a popular hobby, and with the advent of the smartphone the popularity of online gambling has eclipsed that of its physical counterpart. There are many reasons for this:

  • Changing player habits; able to dip in and out of games
  • Increased connectivity
  • Affordability of devices
  • No need to travel to a physical location
  • Rise of the casual gamer
  • Reaching a new demographic of player

Gambling legislation in the US has a long and complex history, with different factions throughout the last couple of hundred years taking steps to legalize and criminalize in equal measure. What has happened is that state and federal law, though not at odds with each other, do not always align, meaning that although there is federal legislature that allows for gambling, states are able to decide how, and if, and to what extent, to permit gambling.

In 2018, the Supreme Court overturned PASPA 1992 (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) as unconstitutional and several states took steps to legalize sports betting. This has a domino effect of new bills and amendments to existing laws to be put forward across different states in the US to bring gambling laws around casinos and online gambling closer to those in the rest of the world.

One state that has been a huge force in pushing through these changes in New Jersey. With its flagship casino haven, Atlantic City, New Jersey was one of the major players in challenging PASPA and was one of the first states to legalize online gambling and sports betting. This extensive list of New Jersey online casinos is a great starting point for any player and shows the possibilities for any state looking to loosen legislation around gambling.

One state that could take a leaf out of New Jersey’s book is Florida, where the laws around gambling are somewhat unclear, confusing, and to some just downright hypocritical. In the wake of PASPA being overturned, over 20 states have legalized sports betting. Florida is not one of them, and sports betting remains illegal. However, Florida legalized gambling as early at 1932 to help raise funds during the great depression (historically, as far back as the thirteen colonies, gambling has been used as a way for the state to raise funds).

By the 1970s slot machines which had been in place for over three decades were ruled illegal and removed. Until 2004, there were constant to-ings and fro-ings between proponents and opponents of gambling, and today there are a number of gambling games that players can enjoy in Florida, including bingo, slots, horse-racing and various casino-games. However, there has never been any legislation to cover online gambling, which, along with sports betting, remains illegal.

Part of the obstacles to legalizing online and sports betting comes from the Seminoles, a Native American Tribe who has benefitted from the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) 1988 which afforded extra privileges for casinos run by and on Indian Reservation Land across the US. Any deal around sports betting and online gambling would need to include a wider approach to ensure their co-operation; in 2019 the Seminole threatened to withhold an annual payment of US$330 million if a deal was not reached, and there is pressure to reach a deal.

The current set of laws, unclear as they are, often force players to head out of state to gamble, losing the state valuable tax dollars. Additionally, individuals will also seek out illegal or off-shore providers, which bring with them a wealth of issues; not only does the state lose out on the revenue, there are potential issues around money laundering, lack of protection for players, illegal activity, and rogue operators.

There is a plethora of benefits that could come from reaching a deal and legalising online gambling and sports betting:

  • Increased revenue for the state; states like New Jersey generated over US$300 million in tax revenue for the state in 2020
  • Increased protections for gamblers, including support for problem gambling, assurances that withdrawals can be made, that winnings will be honored and that individuals will not fall into debt
  • Framework to tackle illegal activity
  • Transparency for regulators to tackle money laundering and associated illegal behavior
  • Regulated odds for sports betting providing fairness to players
  • Job creation in different industries, bringing additional economic stability
  • Attract tourists in the same way Las Vegas and Atlantic City are able to do

Proponents of the changes to legislation tout the potential economic and social benefits, as well as protections for players, as the key reasons for reaching a deal. By providing a robust framework from which to work, the state will be able to safeguard its citizens, increase revenue, create jobs, attract tourists and investors, and overall tap into the growth of the gambling market to help the state as a whole, not just those who like a flutter, to grow and become more stable.

There is hope that in 2021 there may be increased opportunities to make a deal to legalize sports betting and online gambling, perhaps as early as May. Sen Walt Simpson has an affinity with the Seminole Tribe and was instrumental in the tentative agreement in 2019 that was blocked by Gov Ron DeSantis. As current Senate President, he is poised to revive this deal, and it could be, that once federal sign-off is received, Florida could see sports betting and online gambling as early as 2022!

Photo from Deposit Photos

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