Utah Casinos an d Gambling

Utah is one of the least gambling-friendly states in America. The state has a strong Mormon influence, both spiritually and politically, and Mormons are traditionally very conservative. In the case of Utah, a conservative streak means the state has traditionally been against all forms of gambling, from state lotto to casino games to home poker games.

Gambling Options in Utah

No gambling venues are currently open in the state of Utah. A couple of bingo parlors in Salt Lake City operate within the confines of the law, but they host a limited number of games and have small prizes compared to the large bingo parlors found in other parts of the region. You can plunk down $25 for a night of low-value bingo games in the capital city, drive to a nearby state with casino gambling and lotto tickets, or play online–if you can find a casino that will do business with American customers.

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Are Utah Casinos Legal?

No game that people outside the state would recognize as “gambling” is legal within the borders of Utah. No slot machines, no table games, no poker contests, and not even a state lottery system. It’s said that 20% of all Idaho lottery sales come from Utah citizens – it’s a fact that the Idaho retail stores that sell the most lottery tickets are located directly on the Utah border.

I can’t find another US state with fewer options in terms of legal gambling than the state of Utah. I don’t think it exists.

There is a strange wrinkle in Utah law that apparently allows for a limited number of bingo games – or at least there is a small precedent for it. Several bingo halls in the state were shut down in 2004 as part of a crackdown against illegal gambling, but these bingo halls argued that since they weren’t charging patrons for bingo (just $25 for a meal ticket), they were operating legally. Courts sided with the bingo hall operators, and they remain open to this day, though you’d be hard pressed to get a license to operate a bingo game these days, and few have opened since the ruling.

Social gambling is clearly illegal by Utah law – not because there is a law specifically outlawing it, but because of the spirit of state law. According to Utah law, “… gambling means risking something of value in a contest where the outcome is based on an element of chance with the understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.” All forms of that gambling are illegal, which covers private in-home games of poker or bingo or anything else chance- or luck-based.

Anecdotally, private home games are extremely popular in Utah. Check out the many quotes on the subject in this article from LDS source Deseret News. It must be difficult for the state to monitor and arrest private gamblers, because few such arrests have occurred over the years. Still, home and social games are illegal and it’s probably not a good idea for you to take part in them.

Please take note that I am NOT a lawyer – I’m a guy that’s read a ton about US gambling law and I want to share what I’ve learned with people looking for answers. I don’t consider myself an expert in the law or in gambling in general, just an informed person who wants to educate people. If you want real legal advice in this area, consult someone familiar with Utah law specifically and gambling law in general.

More Facts about Utah Gaming Law

If you live in Utah and are interested in gambling, the news goes from bad to worse.

Check out this line added to the state penal code in 2014; subtitled “games of chance not authorized,” it’s easier to just reprint the line than summarize it: “The Legislature shall not authorize any game of chance, lottery or gift enterprise under any pretense or for any purpose.” This is from article 7, legislative department s 27, for those of you that want to look it up.

What does this mean? I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve read a ton about American gaming law and I’ve talked to a couple of lawyers about this stuff before. It sounds to me like the state government went out of its way to make it difficult for future legislators to enact new laws allowing most forms of gambling.

Does this mean the state of Utah will be gambling-free forever? Of course not – if a future group of lawmakers wanted to change this law bad enough, they could do it. It’s more of a symbolic gesture than anything else. But it gives us a pretty good indication of how the state feels about gambling.

Conclusion

It is unlikely that pro-gambling efforts in the state of Utah will get anywhere, at least not until there is a sea change in the political climate in America’s most conservative state. Gone are the days when we could blame the LDS church for all of the wrongs in this southwestern state – if gaming advocates want to see legal gambling in one of our nation’s most beautiful vacation spots, they just need to educate people on the potential benefits of casino gambling within state orders.

For now, gamblers in Utah can choose online gambling (there is no law making it explicitly illegal) or travel to a nearby state that has legal gaming options. They have no in-state options and it doesn’t appear that they will anytime soon.

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