Utah is not in the running to legalize sports betting anytime soon.

With a blanket ban on gambling, Utah is one of the strictest states in the Union on all matters related to gambling. In a state that prohibits casinos, poker and even a state lottery, sports betting is unlikely to make any headway for the foreseeable future.

Few people in Utah, including lawmakers, have displayed any interest in changing state laws to make them more amenable to sports betting or gambling in general. In this environment, daily fantasy sports provide the next best thing to full-on sports betting.

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Utah Sports Betting

Utah sports betting efforts face an uphill battle, to say the least.

Strong anti-gambling sentiments permeate Utah and make it difficult for any efforts to legalize sports betting to even get off the ground. For instance, Utah enacted HB 108 in 2012 to preemptively outlaw online sports betting and gambling – years before the Supreme Court struck down PASPA.

One provision in the law specifically states:

“…if any federal law authorizes Internet gambling in the states, this state shall opt out of allowing Internet gambling…”

The odds of any legislation gaining the traction needed to overturn the state’s ban on gambling and sports betting are extremely low, especially considering the fact that more than 60% of the state’s population is Mormon and opposed to gambling on religious grounds.

Such an effort would also face the significant task of amending the Utah Constitution, which prevents the legislature from authorizing any form of gambling. Article VI, Section 27 explains in no uncertain terms:

The Legislature shall not authorize any game of chance, lottery or gift enterprise under any pretense or for any purpose.

A constitutional amendment to authorize sports betting in Utah would require a two-thirds vote in the legislature and then be approved by a majority of voters in the next general election – all taking place in a state that is deeply opposed to gambling.

Daily Fantasy Sports in Utah

Although Utah is home to some of the most restrictive gaming laws in the nation, daily fantasy sports sites operate openly in the state. Online fantasy sports providers contend that their contests are based on skill rather than luck and offer their services under that assumption.

Utah law does not specifically criminalize daily fantasy sports, but neither does it condone the activity. As is the case in numerous states, the DFS industry operates in a legal grey area in Utah.

In Utah, state law criminalizes gambling both online and in-person gambling. UC §76-10-1101 defines gambling as “risking anything of value for a return or risking anything of value upon the outcome of a game, contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device when the return or outcome is based on an element of chance…”

Arguments could made for or against daily fantasy sports being classified as illegal gambling under Utah law, but the issue has never been tested in court and lawmakers have never addressed the issue with legislation.

In any case, all major fantasy sites are open for business in Utah and local authorities have made no indications they plan to take action against DFS operators.

Horse Racing Betting in Utah

Utah’s long opposition to gambling extends to horse racing betting as well. None of the country’s major horse racing betting sites accept customers from Utah and it appears there is little desire among lawmakers or residents to change the current status quo.

Utah attempted to authorize horse racing betting in 1992 via public referendum, but voters rejected the proposal. The legislature also approved the Utah Horse Racing Act that same year to oversee horse racing and establish the Utah Horse Racing Commission.

Any racing that takes place in Utah today is purely of the non-betting type.

Senator David Hinkins attempted to revive horse racing in 2019 with a bill that would have allowed parimutuel wagering on horse races. The proposal was immediately met with resistance, and Senator Hinkins shelved it himself in the face of strong opposition.

Utah Gambling Laws

Utah takes the official stance that all gambling is unlawful no matter who organizes the activity, with no exceptions. This includes tribal lands, private homes, wagers among friends and online betting sites. Section 76-10-1102 of the Criminal Code makes it a Class B misdemeanor to participate in gambling or make available any property to be used for gambling.

The exact text of this provision reads as follows:

(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.

(3) (a) A person is guilty of a class A misdemeanor who intentionally provides or offers to provide any form of Internet or online gambling to any person in this state.

HB 108 (mentioned above) amended this provision in 2012 to include a clause that prohibits internet gambling and prohibits Utah from ever participating in a federal legalization scheme:

(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.

Section 76-10-1101 provides the state’s definition of gambling:

(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.

This definition paints a broad stroke and covers just about everything related to gambling. A careful reading of the text appears to make an exception for contests of skill but even that is up for debate. As noted above, all major fantasy sites accept customers from Utah.

To further illustrate Utah’s anti-gambling stance, we note that Congressman Jason Chaffetz teamed up with Senator Lindsey Graham to introduce a bill titled Restoration of America’s Wire Act in 2014 in an attempt to reverse a 2011 US Department of Justice ruling that declared the Wire Act only applies to online sports betting.

Their motivation with this piece of legislation was to once again ban all online gambling and poker at the federal level. The DOJ’s 2011 decision is what made it possible for states such as New Jersey and Nevada to legalize online poker and casino sites. The Restoration of America’s Wire Act would have reversed the DOJs decision and kill the burgeoning online gambling industry in the United States.

The effort failed to yield results, but it goes to show that Utah is no friend to gambling in any form. It most likely be a long time before Utah seriously considers expanding its online betting options.