The United States is progressing toward more permissive gambling laws, including the legalization of online gambling in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. In this forward-moving nation of nearly fifty gambling states, one state sticks out like a sore thumb: Utah. In Utah, all forms of gambling are illegal. There is no state lottery. There are no casinos. There will be no legal online gambling in Utah because, in 2012, the state's government passed a bill that would exempt it from any future federal laws permitting online gambling. In spite of stringent regulations, however, Utahns still find ways to gamble, both in person and online.
Poker: It Happens
The fact that gambling is illegal does not mean that the state's citizens are all morally opposed to the activity. To the contrary, underground poker games are alive and well in Utah. Two well-known poker houses operate directly under the noses of authorities: Club Full House in Layton and The Flop House in Orem. Club Full House gives little information about its business to the public, but the location is known underground as a hot spot for poker. The Flop House similarly keeps its information to itself, but people realize it is a known poker entity. A third poker establishment, The Big SLC, was also once alive and well. It has been shut down by authorities.
Rumor has it that other secret poker rooms also exist in Utah. This is not the type of establishment that can be researched online or in the phone book, however. Word of mouth is the way in which these establishments gain business. Many underground poker rooms purportedly exist behind business storefronts and in residential basements.
Lottery: It Happens
Although lottery tickets are not sold in Utah, citizens still get their fill of the game by purchasing tickets from neighboring Idaho. Lottery sellers at the Utah-Idaho border have reported that a large percentage of tickets are sold to Utahns seeking a thrill. Gambling Magazine estimated that citizens spend around $6 million per year on their neighboring state's lottery.
At least one citizen group supports the creation of a state lottery. This group has a Facebook page called “One Million People in Favor of a State Lottery in Utah” and has received nearly 4,000 “likes.”
Bingo: It Happens
Some bingo hall operators have found a way around the law by combining a dinner purchase with a “free” bingo card. Diners who pay $25 or more for an extremely marked-up meal are then allowed play bingo at no charge at the table. Prosecutors tried to shut down one dining establishment/bingo hall in 2005 for this reason, but the business was ultimately allowed to continue.
Online Gambling: It Happens
While it's true that Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware are the only three states that have officially legalized online gambling, the fact is that this activity occurs in all 50 states of America. Online gambling is difficult to regulate because almost everyone has access to private time with a laptop or smart phone. Foreign-based gambling websites are easy to reach to via the Internet, making online games a snap to find. It would be difficult, and also legally questionable, for government officials to invade citizens' privacy by spying on their online behavior. Consequently, online gambling happens.
Some states have enacted legislation that forbids the activity, but no federal policies actually prohibit it, except in the case of sports betting. Federal law forbids websites from taking sports bets from Americans. The law does not, however, prohibit Americans from making online sports wagers. Loopholes in semantics make it quite easy for citizens to bend the law without actually getting in trouble.
Indeed, U.S. laws regarding online gambling are murky and difficult to understand. Internet activity, in addition, is difficult to monitor. Furthermore, if authorities were to invest time and money in trying to catch Internet bettors, the return on their investment would probably be low. It would be impractical, therefore, for the money-strapped U.S. to spend its resources policing an activity that is so difficult to monitor.
No one knows exactly how many online gamblers exist in Utah, but one fact remains certain: gamers in Utah have not, as of yet, been prosecuted for their online wagering activities.
Tribal Gaming: It Doesn't Happen
Two basic types of casinos exist in the U.S.: corporate and tribal. Corporate casinos, such as those affiliated with MGM and Caesars Entertainment, operate in states where permission has been granted for them to do so. Tribal casinos, which are affiliated with various Native American tribes, operate in states where gambling, in general, is legal. Because gambling is completely illegal in Utah, tribal casinos do not exist.
Some people wonder why Utah forbids gambling while other states in the U.S. permit it. There may be religious reasons for this. The state is largely comprised of Mormons, or Latter Day Saints, a denomination that believes all forms of gambling are sinful. A larger population of Mormon politicians means a larger percentage of people in control who are inclined to prohibit gambling. Although the U.S. claims to adhere to the separation of church and state, politicians are human beings who act on gut feelings as to what they think is best for the public. In the case of Utah, many feel it is in the public's best interest to shield them from this sin.
Some would argue that, because the state prohibits gambling in all forms, the activity appears all the more enticing to citizens. As the country's gambling landscape becomes more permissive in terms of online wagering, the “forbidden fruit" may become all the more appealing to those who are denied it. A question to ponder is whether Utah will ultimately give in to peer pressure and loosen its tight reign on peoples' freedom, or if it will stand its ground and continue to isolate itself as one of the only states in the U.S. that prohibits gambling.