Opened in 1887, the Tampa Bay Hotel (and casino) became Florida’s first gaming establishment. Since then, gambling laws in the Sunshine State have continually gone back and forth.
The state legalized horse and dog racing in 1931. The legalization of slot machines occurred in 1935, only to get banned two years later. Bingo became legal in 1970.
With the rise of gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the late 1970s, Florida voters rejected two constitutional amendments for full-scale casino gambling.
Around the same time, Florida voters approved the lottery in 1986. The legalization of the lottery led to a significant change in the state’s gambling laws.
Is there a potential connection between the modernization of online gambling and casino tourism in Tampa Bay?
Let’s find out.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA)
In landmark legislation, the federal government passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988. The Act gave sovereignty to Native tribes for gaming on tribal lands.
Native tribes in Florida previously opened bingo parlors to generate revenue. (The Seminole Tribe opened its first bingo parlor in 1979.)
By a narrow margin, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 to allow slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities. The IGRA gave the Seminole Tribe of Florida the authority to install slots at gambling locations.
First opened in 1979, the Seminole Classic Casino Hollywood remains a popular destination for casino tourism in the state.
With one of the largest casinos in the U.S., the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa also offers high-quality entertainment and dining options. The location maintains a 4.3-star rating on Google from over 48,500 reviews.
Gambling and Tourism in Florida
In 2013, the Tampa Bay Times claimed, “Florida’s gambling industry relies on residents for most revenue.” The Florida Legislature requested an assessment of the state’s social and economic effects of gambling expansion.
The 1,000-page report found out the following:
1 in 3 Florida adults living within an hour of a casino gambled at that location at least once a year
Florida residents accounted for 93% of the $2.4 billion generated at existing casinos
The average Florida gambler spent $866 per year, 16% less than the national average
Half of all residents living within five miles of casinos in South Florida gambled
The University of Florida also conducted an online survey for the report. They discovered that gambling expansion in the state might attract 11% more tourists.
With about 5% of revenue coming from out-of-state visitors and 3% from Florida’s “snowbirds,” the report suggested that in-state residents comprise most of the state’s gambling revenue.
Florida’s tourism industry welcomed over 137 million visitors in 2022, the most significant in state history. Regarding the gross gaming revenue of casinos, the state ranked 16th with just under $694 million.
Online Gambling in Florida
In another important milestone for federal gambling laws, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on sports betting in 2018. That initiated a wave of legalization across the country.
The Department of Justice already ruled in favor of online gambling in 2011. Thus, the Supreme Court ruling relegated online sports betting to the states.
With heavy restrictions, only a handful of states allow online casinos. Gamblers may choose from offshore options to find online casinos that accept Cash App and other traditional banking methods.
It’s hard to tell whether online gambling in Florida might impact tourism in Tampa Bay. There are already a variety of legal horse racing betting sites.
Retail and online sports betting in the state remains complicated.
Is Online Sports Betting Legal in Florida?
Other than pari-mutuel horse racing, betting on sports in Florida is illegal. Gamblers in the state must look to offshore options for online sportsbooks.
The state initially passed sports betting legislation in May 2021. Florida online gamblers briefly got access to a Hard Rock Sportsbook mobile betting app in November. Not long after sports betting began to get up and running, there were a few roadblocks.
The owner of Magic City Casino and the Bonita Springs Poker Room contested a state compact with the Seminole Tribe. A U.S. District Court Judge ruled that the agreement violated the IGRA.
Nearly two years later, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled favor of the Seminole Tribe, overturning the lower court’s previous ruling.
When Governor Ron DeSantis signed the compact with the Seminole Tribe in 2021 to legalize sports betting, the deal projected $2.5 billion in revenue over the next five years.
Retail and online sports betting might be back on track for the start of the 2023-2024 NFL season.
Casino Tourism in the Tampa Bay Area
In partnership with the Seminole Tribe, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa became the first significant player in the state’s new sports betting market. As history shows, gambling legislation in Florida is often prohibitive and slow.
If the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals mandates that the compact between the state and Seminole Tribe remains legal—with sports betting servers on tribal lands—it could significantly boost casino tourism in the Tampa Bay area.
The previous report on gambling expansion in Florida suggested that residents within an hour’s drive to gaming establishments generate most of the revenue.
A sportsbook at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa could steer Florida’s gambling market into the future.
For another story related to a casino night in the Tampa Bay region click here.
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