Both sides have made concessions during the legislative process, and the resulting bill was positive enough to garner support in the Florida House and Senate. Both have passed the gambling and poker expansion bill, which has now been moved to the governor’s desk for signature.
The piece of legislation, SB 788, passed the Senate by a remarkably wide margin of 31-9, and it then passed the House of Representatives 82-35. With that success, Governor Charlie Crist now has the option to sign the bill, and he is expected to do so. Though the one caveat is that the Seminole tribe must approve the legislation, the deadline is August 31st and most predict that the state will be able to work out final details to ensure the bill’s final passage into law.
What the Florida bill will do is significantly expand poker and other forms of gaming in the state. As for poker, the improvements to the current laws are prominent. Cash games had been limited to $100 maximum buy-ins but will soon be without any limits, which will allow more higher-stakes players to leave their private games and bring those funds to the casinos. Limit games that were used to a $5 maximum bet will also be expanded to no limits at all. In addition, there will be no maximum buy-in for poker tournaments, meaning large scale poker tours could bring their $10,000 buy-in events, for example, to Florida casinos. In addition, card rooms that have only been able to be open for 12 hours a day thus far can now be open for 18 hours Monday through Friday, and 24 hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
Racetracks will benefit from the new law in that they can offer slot machines and other games of chance with the only exceptions as craps and roulette, which puts them in the “racino” category. The tax rate for racinos was also lowered to 35 percent in order to allow them to compete on a more equal basis with Indian casinos.
The lowered racino tax rate was one issue with the Seminoles, but the bigger problem was that their annual payment to the state was raised from $100 million to $150 million. The agreement, if finalized, will be in effect for the next 15 years. The tribe would also be compelled to donate $250,000 per facility to the state-run hotline for compulsive gamblers. But in exchange for their payment increases, Seminole casinos like the Hard Rocks in Tampa and Hollywood would be able to institute blackjack, baccarat, and other games previously outlawed. This will allow for a wider range of players and more subsequent revenue.
While some players objected to the new age limit as 21 instead of the former law which allowed 18-year olds to play in no-limit poker tables, this was one of the concessions that was necessary to get the bill passed in a relatively conservative legislature.
The benefits to the gaming community from the legislation are many, but the poker community looks to benefit more than others. With poker tours like the World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker Circuit always on the lookout for new venues, and considering the ever-growing population of poker players coming from Florida, the implementation of the new law could bring more business to the state than they even anticipate.
Florida is on the verge of forging a growing trend in poker and gaming by showing that regulation can be profitable for the state while allowing players the freedom to decide what games to play and what stakes to wager.