Florida Vegas - Gaming in the Sunshine State
Gambling in Florida
Gambling is alive and well in the state of Florida. Dog tracks, horse tracks, bingo halls, and jai alai frontons, have existed throughout the state for years. Casino boats have operated in international waters, outside of the state’s jurisdiction. Despite the objections, gambling opportunities have flourished both in public and in private.
The Florida Lottery took gambling to a new level where every person of age could easily “take a chance” on winning a jackpot. The tickets and scratch-offs are sold at thousands of locations throughout the state. The revenue, reportedly, goes to fund education.
Casinos were another issue altogether. To allow casinos would disrupt the moral fiber of the state, turn it from a family playground to a den of thieves or worse. At least that seemed to be the reasoning why gambling was okay in dog tracks, horse tracks, bingo halls, jai ali frontons, and the lottery, but not Las Vegas style.
Enter the Seminole Tribe. In 1979, when the Seminole Tribe opened a high-stakes bingo hall on their Hollywood, Florida, reservation, court battles followed. In 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Seminoles.
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that casinos owned by federally-recognized tribes could be operated outside of state jurisdiction. The tribes were considered sovereign entities by the U.S. and not under the control of the states in which they operated. Casinos on Indian reservations began opening around the country.
Then in 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which laid out the rules for the operation and regulation of the Indian casinos. It divides gaming into the following three classes:
Class I – “Traditional tribal gaming and social gaming”; minimal prizes; no regulation outside of the tribal government.
Class II – Bingo, poker, other ‘non-banked’ card games played exclusively against other players and not the house. In other words, the pay-out would be based upon the money in.
Class III – Traditional “Las Vegas-style” gambling, played against the casino. Slot machines, blackjack, roulette, craps, and all other types and forms of gambling that are not Class I or Class II. This type of casino requires a compact with the state in which it is operated.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida has operated Class II casinos for several years. The largest casinos being the two Hard Rock Casinos, the first in Hollywood, Florida, the newest and largest in Tampa, Florida. Both had every appearance of being “Las Vegas-style” casinos except for the games offered and the method of pay.
In the Class II casinos, slot machines, including video poker, are actually bingo games played against other players. When the buttons are pushed, it starts bingo balls falling into a bingo card. If there is no bingo, there is no win. The slot machines and video poker machines imitate Las Vegas machines but they are bingo all the way and there is very fine print on the machines that says exactly that.
For table players, the bigger issue with Class II casinos is the lack of high stakes poker, roulette, craps, blackjack, and other big money games.
When the Seminole Tribe entered into the first compact with the state of Florida to upgrade its casinos to Class III, they began adding Class III gaming to their seven casinos, focusing primarily on the Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa.