Online Gaming In Utah

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No form of gambling has ever been legal in the State of Utah, and the recent passage of a law banning online gambling gives the impression that Utah legislators want to keep it that way.

House Bill 108, originally introduced by Utah Rep. Stephen Sandstrom in January, quickly passed through the Utah legislature in March. The law makes any form of online gambling illegal within Utah’s borders. And the penalty is fairly stiff. Lawmakers agreed to make “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.” It was further learned that, if not for the lobbying efforts of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the offense may have been a felony, as several legislators had proposed.

stephen sandstrom outlaws gambling

Taking the Risk – Gambling in Spite of the Law

Utah’s state constitution and code leaves no gray area whatsoever when it comes to gambling. Article VI of the Utah Constitution simply says, “Games of Chance not Authorized. The Legislature shall not authorize any game of chance, lottery or gift enterprise under any pretense or for any purpose.” After that, the constitution defines gambling and all its forms as illegal in no uncertain terms, and also defines those who attempt to provide a means for gambling or possess anything relating to or promoting gambling as in violation of the law[1].

Despite Utah’s clear-cut opposition to gambling, casinos in neighboring states have long since set up shop in or near border towns, giving Utah residents opportunities to cross state lines and gamble as they wish. “Several casinos in Mesquite, Nevada (in Clark County thirty miles from St. George), and Wendover, Nevada (in White Pine County 100 miles from Salt Lake City), market their products to Utah gamblers[2].”

If border states are reaching out, online gambling can certainly reach in. But Internet gamblers will be risking it all after Gov. Gary Herbert signed HB 108 into law in March, effectively making Utah the first state to opt out of any possible federal legislation that might legalize Internet gambling. “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.’”

PPA Executive Director John Pappas said Utah’s opt-out wasn’t surprising because of the state’s anti-gambling stance. He hopes, however, that it does not start a trend. “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.”

Long-standing Beliefs

Brigham Young settled in Utah with his Mormon followers in 1847, and since then the state has been the epicenter for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon Church’s stance on gambling is clear. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is opposed to gambling, including lotteries sponsored by governments. Church leaders have encouraged Church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling.[3]” And with more than 70 percent of modern-day Utah’s population being Mormon, most of the anti-gambling philosophy remains intact.

utah mormons oppose gambling

But just because Mormon settlers followed a doctrine so diametrically opposed to gambling doesn’t mean gambling didn’t occur. Quite the contrary, in fact. According to a January 2011 article on[4], gaming in Utah went on just as it had everywhere else before it was illegal. “In Utah, the history of gaming dates back to the arrival of the Mormon settlers in the 1840s,” said Robert M. Jarvis, professor of law at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “One of the first laws passed by the short-lived State of Deseret was a law prohibiting gambling. Gambling was an underground fixture in Utah during its territorial days, and that’s still true today, although in the 1920s Utah briefly allowed betting on horse racing.”

Outlook Not Good

With the history of anti-gambling in Utah, hopes of being able to gamble legally, online or in a casino within Utah borders doesn’t look promising at all. After the enactment of HB108, it appears as though there is little that gambling proponents can do to change the minds of the Utah Legislature and its predominantly Mormon population.

Citations and References

[1] Utah’s gambling laws by GamblingLawUS
[2] Gambling in Utah by GamblingAmerica
[3] Mormon policy on gambling by
[4] The history of gambling in states where gambling is illegal by