The Florida gambling industry is in a state of flux. In April, lawmakers voted to revise the state’s gambling laws, igniting significant debate about the future of the industry, particularly as it relates to slot machines and blackjack.
Currently, blackjack is available at five of the seven Seminole casinos throughout the state, but this could be changing sooner rather than later. An agreement between the tribe and the State of Florida allows for the popular game, but it is currently set to expire in July. A new bill was presented that would allow for a one plus year extension to the agreement, but it would overwrite the tribe’s exclusive rights to slot machine gambling moving forward. Whether approved or denied, this bill could cause shockwaves throughout the gambling industry.
Earlier this month, an appeals court issued a decision that could have statewide implications. According to the decision, a Gadsden County racetrack is permitted to operate slot machines, representing a significant change to the current gambling landscape. If it stands, the ruling could have major implications on the current $1 billion deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe. Under the agreement, the tribe can immediately stop its payments to the state if pari-mutuels outside of Broward and Miami-Dade counties begin operating slots. As this decision resonates, lawmakers continue to negotiate another part of the deal that gives the Seminoles exclusive rights to operate banked card games, including blackjack, at its facilities.
Moving forward, the issue of gambling exclusivity will loom large over the state’s industry. As Seminole leaders continue to fight to legally eliminate competition, an increasingly vocal contingency is pushing to build multibillion dollar Las Vegas-style resorts in South Florida.
For the Seminole Tribe, renewal of the exclusivity compact will be essential to maintaining its high levels of revenue moving forward. In recent years, the gambling industry has provided the tribe with approximately $2 billion annually, and the state has been open to allowing the exclusive operation of both house-banked table games and slot machines in exchange for continued revenue sharing to the tune of $116 million annually. In an effort to stay ahead of the curve and sway lawmakers, the Seminoles spent approximately $100 million on casino upgrades in May.
The state of Florida’s gambling industry in the coming years is very much in question as the negotiations between involved parties continue to heat up. Everything from new resorts to more widespread gaming options and even, potentially, legalized online lottery sales, are sure to have an impact on the industry moving forward. One thing is for sure: the popularity of gambling within the state isn’t going away anytime soon.
Florida is currently home to 32 poker rooms, trailing only California in quantity, which demonstrates the insatiable appetite of Floridians for gambling options. In the years to come, look for Florida to continue to position itself to become a major player in the nationwide gambling scene. With a little cooperation between the Seminoles and the state’s lawmakers, it could happen sooner than you’d think.