Florida: a gaming market preparing for the future

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Lots of talk is circulating over what’s going on in Florida, the last big market in North America. As the Florida Gaming Committees in its Legislature begin preparing for what will most certainly be a whirlwind over the next 18 months, here is a look at the key players to keep an eye on:

THE SEMINOLE TRIBE: It has demonstrated credibility as an outstanding operator and a formidable political force. All of that, in addition to a guaranteed $1 billion in revenue sharing with the state between 2010-15, makes the Seminole Tribe and its Hard Rock brand the one to watch.

FLORIDA PARIMUTUELS: Florida has a long and rich parimutuel history boasting more operating parimutuel facilities than any other state. Many of these facilities have been operating for more than 70 years and are an important part of their local communities. Many of the cardrooms at these parimutuels are humming along at a record pace and with a little luck at the State Capitol, new gaming options might be on the menu in the not-so-distant future.

NON-GAMING INTERESTS: The Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Walt Disney World are incredibly well-positioned in Florida’s capital. They will be relevant in any gambling legislation to ensure no cannibalization of their businesses occur as a result of a successful piece of legislation.

GAMING OUTSIDERS: Policymakers are poised to clean up what Florida has and maximize the revenues from its industry mix. Those from outside of the state who don’t have any hard holdings in Florida will continue to have a difficult time breaking through with their message of free-standing casino licenses. All of the aforementioned interests are aligned against new entrants out of concern for market cannibalization. In addition, past infighting among the casino companies and failed efforts in prior years make for a considerable headwind for these groups.

One additional overarching factor facing any gaming proposal is the success of Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislative leaders in holding the line on a low tax, low regulatory burden philosophy for governing the state that has resulted in an accelerating job market and a budget surplus. Prognosticators love to talk about how politicians will go for a grand gambling expansion because of the need for jobs, taxes and huge amounts of capital expenditures. Florida never has validated that prediction. Stories of revenue and economic development from large-scale casino operations, Internet gaming and even sportsbooks are falling on deaf ears.

What does this mean for poker players? Likely Florida’s market growth will continue as the state is in play for further investment in its industry. Even before next year’s Legislative session begins, it will be game-on for Florida’s leaders to attempt the grand bargain where Florida’s existing gambling is cleaned up in a way that provides a greater level of certainty for regulators, revenue estimators, gambling operators, capital markets and critically, the customers. Operators likely will begin deploying capital on nicer rooms and more offerings, which means the sun will continue to shine on Florida’s poker players.

— Marc W. Dunbar represents several gaming clients before the Florida Legislature and teaches gambling and parimutuel law at the Florida State’s College of Law.