Florida is still trying to figure out how big a role gambling should play in its economy.
Indian tribe casinos here generated a substantial $2.2 billion in revenues in 2011. That sum placed the state fourth nationwide in Indian gaming revenue. But it leaves Florida facing stiff new competition from other states and, this week, new challenges from Internet gambling.
Florida gaming revenues from the eight Seminole and Miccosukee tribe casinos surpassed those generated in Connecticut in 2011. Yet Washington leapfrogged both states to rank No. 3 nationwide behind California and Oklahoma. Just out, the 2011 rankings appear in the annual "Indian Gaming Industry Report" published by Casino City Press.
According to analyst Alan Meister, the report's author, Florida revenues grew because of more table games like blackjack in South Florida casinos, and the opening of the gambling room targeted at Asians at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.
The Tampa casino is the Seminoles' biggest moneymaker and Central Florida's only major casino.
"It doesn't hurt to be in the market by ourselves, I'll tell you that," John Fontana, president of Tampa's Seminole Hard Rock complex, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Fontana delivered Wednesday's opening address at the Florida Gaming Congress held in Hollywood.
Nationwide, Indian gaming revenues in 2011 topped $27 billion.
An industry curveball was thrown this week when New Jersey became the biggest state yet to permit regulated online gambling. The New Jersey law requires online gamblers to be physically in the state. But the law leaves open the possibility of adding other willing states through compacts.
Only a year ago, the federal government was busy targeting online gambling operations and their partners with criminal and civil lawsuits.
Federal prosecutors had clamped down on some high-flying online gambling sites, including one called Absolute Poker funded with family money from St. Petersburg.
Now the U.S. Justice Department has changed its mind and no longer treats online gambling as a criminal enterprise.
So far, gambling observers seem split on whether Florida is poised for another round of gambling expansion.
After lobbying by Indian casinos, state legislators last year defeated efforts by Malaysia's Genting Group to win Las Vegas-style "destination gambling" in South Florida.
Expanding casino gambling is not supposed to be on the state's agenda when Florida's Legislature convenes Tuesday. Tallahassee leaders instead seek a study of the state gambling industry by Oct. 1.
Florida's gambling future is hardly clear. The Sunshine State News service suggests online betting is a back-burner issue here. Bloomberg News reports it's front-burner news.
The Miami Herald now reports that discussion about the industry's future in Florida is heating up once again. The paper says a group of Wall Street analysts at the Florida Gaming Congress agreed it's not a question of if destination gambling resorts will arrive in Florida, only when it will happen.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]