Utah Ban Online Gambling

Posted by on Sunday, March 25th, 2018

While many states are looking at online poker and gambling as a way to bring much needed revenue to state coffers, Utah has gone in the opposite direction by becoming the first state to enact legislation that bans Internet gambling throughout the state.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed an anti-gambling bill into law that was passed by the state’s legislature earlier this month that will allow the Beehive State to opt out and exclude itself from any online poker legislation that may be enacted at the federal level.

One of the main clauses in the legislation, stated, “If any federal law is enacted that authorizes Internet gambling in the states and that federal law provides that individual states may opt out of Internet gambling, this state shall opt out of Internet gambling in the manner provided by federal law and within the time frame provided by that law.”

Titled HB108, Utah’s anti-gambling legislation makes playing poker or gambling in the state via the Internet a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. But it could have been much worse. Some Utah lawmakers suggested making online gambling a felony, but the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) helped in lobbying against it.

“We weren’t happy with the outcome,” said John Pappas, the PPA’s executive director. “We fought it. We worked with lobbyists there. Our state director got very involved. It’s not an ideal outcome but, given Utah’s history with gaming, it’s not a surprising outcome.”

Utah’s anti-gambling measure was introduced in January following the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) ruling in December which found that the 1961 Wire Act is applicable only to sports betting. The DOJ opinion has many states considering online poker regulations, but Utah is the only state to go in the opposite direction. The PPA is hoping that Utah does not start a trend.

“We’re staying vigilant on that,” Pappas said. “It will be interesting to see if other states follow this lead, but I think the PPA will be better suited to fight this in other states because other states have gaming to begin with. Utah is a state where gambling is a sin. You don’t have that in other states so I think it will be much harder for other states to outlaw this.”

Utah and Hawaii remain the only two states that have never had any form of legalized gambling within their borders. Hawaii recently made another attempt at proposing online poker and gambling regulations, but the measure failed to receive proper legislative support and is now considered dead. Proposals in Mississippi and Iowa have also met the same fate as Hawaii’s recent attempt at online gambling. California and New Jersey both currently have active online poker bills pending, but New Jersey’s proposal has been delayed for six weeks as Garden State legislators attend to budgetary issues.

Nevada currently leads the way in being the first state to provide online poker to its residents. The Silver State adopted Internet poker regulations in December and recently finalized rules for the inspection and certification of approved poker sites. Nevada Gaming Control Board officials have estimated that Nevada online poker rooms could be up and running as early as fall of this year.

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