The Road to Online Poker Legalization in Florida
Florida was among the first states to examine online poker regulation at the state level. Back in 2011, Rep. Joseph Abruzzo filed HB 77, also known as the Internet Poker Consumer Protection and Revenue Generation Act to bring online poker to Florida. The bill intended to regulate both online poker and casino games.
Unfortunately, 2011 was also the year that the U.S. Department of Justice cracked down on PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker for violations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). The negative publicity surrounding Black Friday would impact HB 77 as the bill never emerged from committee.
Many thought that 2011 would be just the first time that the state would examine iGaming regulation, especially after a December 2011 memo that stated that the Federal Wire Act only applied to sports betting and not online gambling. However, 2011 is the last time that iGaming regulation received serious consideration.
There were rumors of a bill in 2012 but internet cafes had become a serious concern by lawmakers. These cafes were considered to be illegal gambling and the concerns over them forced lawmakers to abandon iPoker regulation efforts.
In 2014, any realistic hope to regulate online poker in Florida was effectively squashed by Governor Rick Scott. He came out in full opposition to online gambling. His stance and talking points sounded very similar to those expressed by billionaire Sheldon Adelson. His mission is to get online gambling banned throughout the United States.
After Scott’s announcement in 2014, there’s been next to zero activity regarding online gambling regulation in the state. The only exception is the recent bill that is seeking to regulate Daily Fantasy Sports. The odds of that bill passing are unlikely due to Scott’s stance against online gambling.
For those taking a forward-looking view of iGaming regulation in Florida, be prepared to wait a while. Gov. Scott just began his second term in 2015 and will not leave office until early 2019. As such, we don’t expect to see any type of movement regarding online poker regulation until at least 2019. Realistically, don’t expect anything until at least 2020 or maybe even later.
Will PokerStars Be Granted a License to Offer Online Poker in Florida?
Due to the fact that we do not expect Florida to regulate online poker until at least 2020, we believe that the chances are good that PokerStars will be allowed to operate in Florida. By the time that Florida regulates iPoker, there should be a minimum of three and possibly even four states offering PokerStars as an option for online poker.
For those with concerns regarding bad actor clauses, consider the recent changes in opinion regarding the issue. Many were opposed to PokerStars operating in the United States due to accepting bets from U.S. players post UIGEA in 2006. However, the company was sold to the Amaya Gaming Group in August 2014 and the management in charge of the old company has been removed.
In September 2015, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement concluded their investigation into the Amaya purchase of PokerStars. They determined that the company was indeed a new entity operating under the Amaya umbrella. Four members of management were deemed unsuitable and Amaya was forced to terminate their employment.
Now that the NJ DGE has issued a transactional waiver to PokerStars for NJ, the issue of bad actors is largely considered moot. Even the California tribes opposed to PokerStars are said to be backing down from the issue due to the NJ license.
By 2020, we realistically expect PokerStars to be operating in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California and maybe even New York. We could see PokerStars try to launch in Nevada once their five-year ban is lifted in 2018.
We can also see PokerStars virtually taking over the interstate online poker network and if this happens, states will almost be forced to accept PokerStars as an operator in order to remain competitive.
Which Online Poker Sites Will Operate Once Florida Regulates Online Poker?
Florida is the third largest state in the United States and will be the second largest regulated market once an iGaming bill is finally passed. The state could earn as much as $300 million during their first year of regulated gaming and there is a good chance that these numbers could go much higher.
Below are four operators that we believe are likely to open online poker in Florida. We think that the state could realistically support six to eight poker sites, so this is a brief list based on activity from other states.
Due to the size of the Florida market, we expect Caesars Entertainment to find a way to operate WSOP.com in Florida despite not operating a live casino there. One option would be for the company to partner with one or several of the racinos in the state This could prove a better option than partnering with a casino that would normally be a competitor.
We expect WSOP.com FL to be one of the most popular sites in Florida due to their robust spread of online poker tournaments and their connection with the World Series of Poker. Expect guarantees of between $1 and $2 million weekly with larger guarantees once the site becomes established.
In Florida, we think that 888 Holdings will chose to offer the All-American Poker Network and likely target the Seminole tribal casinos in the state. Since the Seminole tribe has seven casinos in the state, a network featuring all seven would make the site among the largest in the state.
As such, we believe that 888Poker FL will have similar traffic to WSOP.com and offer up to $2 million in weekly online poker guarantees. 888 Holdings is also the current provider of the interstate poker network and if they continue providing that service, the will have to operate in the state in order for the state to enter into interstate compacts for poker.
PartyPoker is one of those sites that could do very well in Florida or they could be one of the cellar dwellers. We think that they will also target the racinos in the state with the purpose of forming their own network. If they are successful, they will offer a solid third tier network to Florida players.
We expect traffic for PartyPoker to be on the average side and tournament guarantees to be between $750,000 to $1.5 million each week. The success for PartyPoker will hinge on either building their own network or providing a product that provides a solid alternative to PokerStars and WSOP.com.
If there’s one thing we’re certain of, it’s that PokerStars will start out as the top dog for online poker in Florida. Their live casino partner will be the best option available to help the company grow both PokerStars FL and any potential live tournaments they plan to offer in Florida.
It will have the best cash games and online poker tournaments. Expect up to $4 million each week in tournament guarantees and don’t be surprised to see the Sunday Million as the top weekly tournament.
Finally, should PokerStars have a prescience in multiple states outside of Florida, expect them to become their own interstate online poker network.