Size wise, Utah takes up an impressive area, ranked 13th largest state in the US, but just 37th highest in population with 2,900,872 (est. 2013). The vast majority of those residents live along the Wasatch Front, making Utah one of the last true frontier states, with immense tracts of uninhabited land throughout. The Beehive State carries a lot of historical fascinations, but none so well recognized as being the national epicenter for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church). It’s that very fact that has kept all forms of gambling from being legalized in Utah. In fact, it is one of just 2 US states (the other being Hawaii) that declined to initiate a state lottery. The anti-gambling nature of the voting public has been so persuasive that it’s influenced lawmakers to precipitately exempt the state from any future federal regulation of online poker.
Evidence supports a marginal presence of online poker players residing in Utah, but with the majority of the population belonging to – or at least being swayed by the oft-verbalized opinions of – the LDS Church, all forms of gambling are generally avoided. Throw in the fact that Utah expressly prohibited internet gambling several years ago, and online poker isn’t exactly a thriving business in the Beehive State.
Land-based Gambling in Utah
The history of gambling in Utah is a concise one that revolves mostly around prohibitionary measures. In the early 1800’s, gambling flourished with the influx of silver mining, but by the 1840’s, a mass of Mormon settlers had arrived. With a distinct aversion to gambling, they passed a law to ban all forms of wagering in the state. That stance was fortified in 1866 by the president of LDS Church, Brigham Young, who gave a famous sermon against gambling in Utah that is often reiterated by fellow Mormons to this day.
An attempt at legal wagering was made in 1925 when the state chose to legalize pari-mutuel betting on horse races, but it ended almost as quickly as it began in 1927. Activists have lobbied for the return of pari-mutuel betting ever since, and nearly succeeded in 1992 when they presented a 100,000-signature strong petition to the local government that wrought a vote on the general election bill, but it failed by a ratio of 60:40.
The ultimate blow came when Utah updated its statutes in 2011 (enacted in 2012), declaring that internet gambling is illegal and if the federal government approves online poker regulation, Utah will automatically follow the specified protocol to opt out.
Deciphering the Laws of Utah as they relate to Online Poker
We’ve already established that online poker is explicitly addressed by the Utah Criminal Code. Below are citations from the text of that code, Title 76, Chapter 10, Offenses Against Public Health, Safety, Welfare and Morals, as they relate to online poker.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|76-10-1101 Definitions||(2) (a) “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.
|The fact that skill dominates chance in poker has no bearing on its being considered gambling because, as the definition states, an element of chance does exist. Thus to play poker for anything of value is gambling.|
|(4) “Gambling device or record” means anything specifically designed for use in gambling or used primarily for gambling.||A computer or mobile device is not primarily designed for use in gambling, but if an online poker player used a computer or mobile device primarily for gambling, and a prosecutor was somehow able to prove that fact, it could potentially be defined as a gambling device.|
|(6) “Internet gambling” or “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.
|Since poker is defined as gambling, playing online poker on a computer or mobile device connected to the internet is defined as internet/online gambling.|
|76-10-1102 Gambling||(1) A person is guilty of gambling if the person:
(a) participates in gambling, including any Internet or online gambling;
|To play online poker for real money in Utah is illegal.|
|(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.||The penalty for conviction of playing illegal online poker is up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 fine. The penalty increases to as much as 1 year in jail and up to $2,500 fine for subsequent offenders.|
|(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.||If the US government passes federal online poker regulations, Utah will automatically set into motion the necessary procedures to opt out (i.e. Utah will not participate in a future federal, interstate online poker market).|
|(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.||Internet gambling is and will remain illegal in Utah whether the US government chooses to regulate online poker or not.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Utah?
Yes. Utah lawmakers went to extensive measures to ensure that online poker and other forms of internet gambling were expressly prohibited. Poker is clearly considered a form of gambling, and any form of internet gambling is heavily punishable by law.
Is Utah working to legalize Online Poker?
No. Utah is the last of all 50 states that anyone would expect to legalize online poker, with or without the help of federal regulation. Not only is legalization off the menu, the Beehive State is actively working to keep it off the menu for years to come.
Utah State Representative Jason Chaffetz is one of the nation’s most vocal anti-online gambling advocates, having personally introduced a Sheldon Adelson-backed federal bill to the House seeking a blanket ban of internet gambling across the US, known as the Restoration of America’s Wire Act.
Online Poker Players from Utah
While there are numerous online poker players from Utah, thanks to the state’s staunch position on internet gambling, not a single one has dared to reveal their true identity. The most successful player is simply known as Tommy G. He raked in nearly $500k from PokerStars under the moniker “FishList_net”, and over $200+ at Full Tilt as “McGuiler”, before Black Friday, and has since been grinding the felt on Carbon Poker as “Rupreckt”.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Utah