Gambling Crimes in Florida

According to the Florida Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program, the term “gambling” is defined to include:

  • unlawfully betting or wagering money or something else of value;
  • assisting, promoting, or operating a game of chance for money or some other stake;
  • manufacturing, selling, purchasing, possessing, or transporting gambling devices or goods;
  • tampering with the outcome of a sporting event, or contest to gain a gambling advantage; or
  • possessing or transmitting wagering information.

The most commonly prosecuted crimes related to gambling include:

  • 849.01 – keeping a gambling house
  • 849.09(1)(a)-(d) – setting up or promoting a lottery
  • 849.23 – gambling related machines
  • 849.25(2) – engaging in bookmaking

In 2018, the FDLE reported a total of 123 arrests for gambling.

Attorney for Gambling Crimes in Florida

If you were accused of procuring or permitting another to gamble at a place under their control or keeping a gambling room or house, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Sammis Law Firm. Accusations might include running a card game, bingo game, or slot machines.

We represent clients charged with gambling crimes under Florida law, including sections 849.01,  849.08, 849.11, and 849.14.

Law enforcement officers often seize for forfeiture any valuable property related to the gambling operation, including U.S. Currency. Our attorneys are experienced in civil and criminal asset forfeiture procedures. The first step is demanding an adversarial preliminary hearing within 15 days of the seizure.

Call 813-250-0500.


Crimes for Maintaining a Gambling House

In McBride v. State, 39 Fla. 442, 22 So. 711 (1897), the court explained the purpose of Florida’s gambling statute is not to prohibit gambling itself, but to prohibit the keeping of a house or other place for gambling.

The first part of Florida’s gambling statute deals with keeping or maintaining a gambling room or house. The statute requires proof that some game or device condemned as gambling has been habitually played or carried on at a place owned or subject to a defendant’s control, with that defendant’s knowledge and consent.

The statutory scheme of chapter 849 relating to gambling shows a general intent to treat the business or profession of gambling as a felony while treating the casual or occasional act of gambling as a misdemeanor.

In addition to maintaining or keeping a gambling room or house, the statute also prohibits procuring or permitting another to gamble at a place under their control.


Penalties for Gambling Crimes in Florida

A single act of gambling is a crime that is separate and distinct from the offense of keeping a gambling house. For instance, in Cohen v. State, 189 So.2d 498 (Fla. 3d DCA 1966), the district court held that competent proof of only a single instance of taking a bet was insufficient to convict the defendant of maintaining a gambling house under section 849.01.

The two versions of Florida gambling statutes, Sections 849.093 and 849.01, are different in that Section 849.093 is a specialized exception to the general prohibition against gambling. See Carroll v. State, 361 So.2d 144 (Fla. 1978).

A conviction under section 849.01 is charged as a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. A conviction for the act of gambling is a second-degree misdemeanor under sections 849.08, 849.11, and 849.14, Florida Statutes, which is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Section 849.13 explains the punishment for a second conviction for an act of gambling as follows:

“Whoever, after being convicted of an offense forbidden by law in connection with lotteries, commits the like offense, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.”


 

Seizures for Forfeiture in Gambling Crimes

Section 849.36(5) allows officers to seize certain vessels, vehicles, or gambling paraphernalia being used in violation of Florida’s gambling laws found in Chapter 849. In other words, a seizure for forfeiture under Chapter 849 is limited to those narrow categories of property.

The most common defenses under Chapter 849 include:

  • the claimant is an innocent owner, bona fide seller or purchaser for value, or lien holder;
  • the seized property does not meet the definition of “gambling paraphernalia”;
  • the clerk failed to issue a citation using the approved language or proper notice was not otherwise provided.

As a practical matter, forfeiture proceedings using the procedures listed in Chapter 849 are rare. First, under the express language of Chapter 849.36(1), any seizure of a vessel or vehicle must follow the forfeiture procedures outlined in the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (as opposed to Chapter 849).

Therefore, forfeiture proceedings using the Chapter 849 procedures are limited to only “gambling paraphernalia,” defined in Section 849.35(5), Fla. Stat., as follows:

“every description of apparatus, implement, machine, device or contrivance used in, or in connection with, any violation of the lottery, gaming and gambling statutes, and laws of this state, except facilities and equipment furnished by a public utility in the regular course of business, and which remain the property of such utility while so furnished.”

On the other hand, according to Section § 932.701(2)(a)(2) of the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, the term “contraband article” is more broadly defined to include:

Any equipment, gambling device, apparatus, material of gaming, proceeds, substituted proceeds, real or personal property, Internet domain name, gambling paraphernalia, lottery tickets, money, currency, or other means of exchange which was obtained, received, used, attempted to be used, or intended to be used in violation of the gambling laws of the state, including any violation of chapter 24, part II of chapter 285, chapter 546, chapter 550, chapter 551, or chapter 849.

Although rarely used, and only for “gambling paraphernalia,” Chapter 849 creates streamlined procedures for forfeiture, which require the following:

  • the seizing agency must file a “return” with the clerk listing the following:
    • a description of the property seized; 
    • the detailed facts and circumstances under which the property was seized;
    • a full explanation of why the seizing officer knew, or was led to believe, that the said property was being used for or in connection with a violation of the statutes and laws of this state prohibiting lotteries and gambling in this state; and
    • the names of all persons, firms and corporations known to the seizing officer to be interested in the seized property;
  • the clerk shall consider the return to be the state’s petition or libel in rem for the forfeiture of the property therein described even if it contains no formal prayer or demand for forfeiture;
    • after filing the return, the clerk shall issue a “citation,” directed to all persons, firms, and corporations owning, having, or claiming an interest in or a lien upon the seized property;
    • the clerk must give notice of the seizure by issuing a “citation” with language warning the potential claimant that they must file a claim;
  • the claimant must file a claim that fully states their right, title, claim, or interest, in and to the seized property;
  • under Section 849.41, when a claim is filed, the case must be tried;
  • the claimant must prove to the satisfaction of the court that:
    • he or she did not know or have any reason to believe, at the time his or her right, title, interest, or lien arose, that the property was being used for or in connection with the violation of any of the statutes or laws of this state prohibiting lotteries and gambling; and
    • further that at said time there was no reasonable reason to believe that the said property might be used for such purpose;
  • the case will be tried without a jury unless a jury trial is demanded in the claim filed and the a trial by jury may be guaranteed by the Florida Constitution.

The Clerk’s Section 849.37 Citation for the Forfeiture of Gambling Paraphernalia

Under 849.38(3), the citation issued to the potential claimants may use the following form language:

IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE JUDICIAL CIRCUIT, IN AND FOR ________ COUNTY, FLORIDA.

IN RE FORFEITURE OF THE FOLLOWING DESCRIBED PROPERTY:

(Here describe property)

THE STATE OF FLORIDA TO:

ALL PERSONS, FIRMS AND CORPORATIONS OWNING, HAVING OR CLAIMING AN INTEREST IN OR LIEN ON THE ABOVE DESCRIBED PROPERTY.

YOU AND EACH OF YOU are hereby notified that the above described property has been seized, under and by virtue of chapter , Laws of Florida, and is now in the possession of the sheriff of this county, and you, and each of you, are hereby further notified that a petition, under said chapter, has been filed in the Circuit Court of the Judicial Circuit, in and for County, Florida, seeking the forfeiture of the said property, and you are hereby directed and required to file your claim, if any you have, and show cause, on or before , (year) , if not personally served with process herein, and within 20 days from personal service if personally served with process herein, why the said property should not be forfeited pursuant to said chapter , Laws of Florida, 1955. Should you fail to file claim as herein directed judgment will be entered herein against you in due course. Persons not personally served with process may obtain a copy of the petition for forfeiture filed herein from the undersigned clerk of court.

WITNESS my hand and the seal of the above mentioned court, at Florida, this , (year) .

(COURT SEAL)

(Clerk of the above-mentioned Court.)

By (Deputy Clerk)


This article was last updated on Friday, January 5, 2024.