Utah Gambling & Casino Laws

Is Gambling Online Legal in the State of Utah?

Officially, Utah has no legal forms of gambling – though that does not stop the population of this State employing a lot of creative solutions to enjoy poker, bingo and even casino games. While the majority Mormon population sees gambling as a transgression of their church’s values – there are still many residents who enjoy a flutter. This page takes you through the details of the Utah gambling laws.

First of all below you will find a quick-fire overview of the history of gambling in Utah, including some of the creative solutions to the general ban. After that a game-by-game run-down of what games can be played in this State. Next the detailed part of this page looks as excerpts from the statute books and a legal timeline. Finally, you will find a summary and look at the future at the end of this page.

Utah Gambling Laws – A Brief History

With the exception of a 2 year trial of pari-mutuel betting in the 1920’s – gambling has been illegal in Utah from the creation of the state. What many people do not realize is that there are opportunities to gamble for Utah residents, and that casual betting (for example office pools on major sporting events or a few dollars on a round of golf) is actually very common there.

Casino games are a definite ‘no’ in Utah territory, though there are plenty of people willing to drive west on interstate 80 to the border town of Wendover, Nevada. This was once a truck-stop, and has now become home to 5 casinos, hosting up to 700,000 gamblers from Utah every year. Organized excursions to the tables there are common for those not wishing to make the 2 hour drive from Salt Lake City themselves.

Poker is possible via bar leagues which do not charge for entry into their tournaments. They give out cash prizes, and even have bigger monthly events with larger sums up for grabs. Since there is no entry fee, the authorities tolerate these popular games. You can enjoy home-games too, which are tolerated as long as the players have a real social relationship and nobody is profiting from the games.

Bingo enjoys some creative solutions, with restaurants offering free cards with their meals which give away cash prizes. The meals are rather expensive, though in theory at least, people not buying food can still get the bingo tickets – making the games possible.

There are rumors of many trips to Las Vegas from Utah each year, and substantial sums being spent on lottery tickets from Idaho too.

An interesting development came in 2012, when the existing anti-gambling laws were strengthened. An act was passed explicitly making gambling on the internet illegal. At the same time wording in this bill ensured that this would remain illegal in the event of any federal regulation.

What Forms Of Gambling Are Legal?

The short answer would be ‘none’ however, this masks some creative ways in which residents get around the laws!

Casino Games: No, the closest casino gambling is in the Nevada town of Wendover, which is on the border between the two States and exists for Utah residents making the 2 hour trip from the Salt-lake city area.

Online Casinos: No, these are now specifically outlawed.

Live Poker: No, there are no poker games as other States enjoy them. However there are bar leagues with no buy-in requirements which offer cash and goods as prizes, and home games are tolerated as long as nobody of profiting by raking the pots.

Online Poker: No, again this is specifically illegal.

Sports Betting:  No, there is no sports-betting at all in this State.

Lottery Betting: No, there is no lottery in Utah.

Bingo Games: No, again there are creative ways around this (diners where you pay for a meal and get free bingo cards), though strictly speaking, it is not legal.

Utah Gambling Laws – Statutes And Legal Timeline

Despite the conservative outward reputation of Utah residents, their laws are not worded in the strongest possible ways. In fact their definition of gambling is 3-pronged, leading many to argue that if one prong is missing then the form of gambling is legal. This is what enables the free poker leagues and bingo-buffets to thrive. The wording can be found below, along with the key passage from the more recent HB108, which bans internet gambling and creates the opt-out of future federal legal gaming.

” “Gambling” means risking anything of value for a return or risking anything of value upon the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device when the return or outcome:

(i) is based upon an element of chance; and (ii) is in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. ” (From 76-1-1101)

Here is the key wording from HB108:

[su_quote]“Whether or not any federal law is enacted that authorizes Internet gambling in the states, this section acts as this state’s prohibition of any gambling, including Internet gambling, in this state.”[/su_quote]

The focus of this bill is not necessarily the players of internet poker or casino games – though explicitly they are criminalized under it – but rather the operators of the games.

1851: The first anti-gambling law was passed (under the precursor to Utah, the State of Deseret). This ‘Ordinance To Suppress Gaming’ was used in the first Utah constitution in the same year.

1875: All forms of gambling in this State are declared illegal, this law remained intact for a full 98 years, until the entire code was rewritten in 1973.

1925 to 1927: Pari-mutuel betting comes and then goes, this is the only legal gambling in the history of this state, and lasted only 2 years.

2012: Online gambling banned from within Utah, and wording created to ensure that Utah is not included in any future Federal legalization of online gambling.

Utah Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

While things are not as dry for gamblers as they might first appear – this is certainly not a gambling friendly State by any stretch of the imagination. With the 2012 bill pre-empting any Federal legislation covering online gambling with an opt-out, we can consider Utah to be at the very bottom of the list of States who might one day regulate online poker.

Useful Resources:

History Of Gambling In Utah

Article On Wendover

Links To Statutes

Article Covering The 2012 Law

  • http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/31/idUS224399+31-Jan-2012+MW20120131
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