Chances are, if you call Utah your home, you haven’t done much gambling in the last 90 years or so. If you have, it was either at an online poker or casino site, or you traversed the border to a more obliging state. That’s because Utah is one of just two states in the US that has remained staunchly avid in its anti-gambling stance, practically since before the dawn of the nation. Even in the 1800’s, when gambling was considered a natural way of the west, Utah forbade the activity. There was a very brief period of time, between 1925 and 1927, when pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing was permitted, but even that was short lived.
Utah offers absolutely no forms of legal, regulated gambling. There was an attempt to reinstate pari-mutuel racing in the 1990’s, but that failed by a public vote of 60%-40%. Residents of Utah have no state lottery, no commercial casinos, no tribal casinos, not even a charitable bingo game or raffle can be found in the Beehive State. One would have to assume that, as such, online poker would also be outlawed in Utah. But is that really the case?
Legality of Online Poker in Utah
No matter what the laws of any US state said in regards to gambling prior to the introduction of online poker, they may have absolutely no reflection on the legality of internet gaming. The two key factors to look for are (a) if the laws were updated to explicitly address internet/online gambling, and, if not, (b) are the state’s antiquated gambling laws ambiguous enough to encompass wagering over the internet?
We attempt to examine each state’s gambling laws in this manner to determine the legalities of online poker. We don’t claim to be professional legal analysts, and can offer only our opinion as to whether online poker is legal in Utah. For a more precise interpretation of the law, please contact a licensed attorney in your area. With that said, let’s see what Utah’s Constitution has to say about gambling.
Utah Constitution – Gambling
The following excerpts are taken directly from the Utah Constitution as they pertain to gambling and online poker. Please be aware that some text may have been omitted to maintain fluency with the topic, but the meaning has not been altered.
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.
Internet Gambling/Online Gambling: means gambling or gaming by use of:
(a) the Internet; or
(b) any mobile electronic device that allows access to data and information.
(1) A person is guilty of gambling if the person:
(a) participates in gambling, including any Internet or online gambling;
(b) knowingly permits any gambling to be played, conducted, or dealt upon or in any real or personal property owned, rented, or under the control of the actor, whether in whole or in part; or
(c) knowingly allows the use of any video gaming device that is:
(i) in any business establishment or public place; and
(ii) accessible for use by any person within the establishment or public place.
(2) Gambling is a class B misdemeanor, except that any person who is convicted two or more times under this section is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
(4) 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.
(5) 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.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Utah?
Unlike most states, where a dictionary is a handy tool in deciphering the verbiage of gambling laws, Utah’s legislative literature is quite clear, concise and direct. Let’s examine the facts.
The act of gambling over the internet was specifically addressed in 2012 with an amendment to 76-10-1102 that plainly states “a person is guilty of gambling if the person participates in gambling, including any Internet or online gambling.”
Next question – is poker considered gambling in Utah? The definition of gambling encompasses “risking anything of value” on any “game” where the outcome is determined by “some element of chance” wherein the winner receives “something of value” in return. Poker may be considered a game of skill even by federal law, but it also contains an element of chance, thus it must be included as an illegal gambling activity in the state of Utah.
The obvious answer is yes, online poker illegal in the Beehive State. The penalty for illegal online gambling in Utah is a Class B misdemeanor for the first conviction, which entails a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail. Upon the second, and any subsequent convictions, the penalty escalates to a Class A misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to 1 year in jail.
Is Utah working to regulate online poker?
If you read that last bit under section 76-10-1102, you may have realized that Utah has no intention of legalizing online poker anytime in the near or distant future. When Governor Herbert signed HB 108 into effect in March of 2012, it added the following text to the state’s gambling legislation:
“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.”
Not only is Utah strictly against the idea of regulating online poker, the state has already opted out of any federal online poker regulation that may be passed by the US government in the future. If/When that occurs, so long as the option to opt out is provided by federal law, Utah has already passed measures to take it.