Legal Poker & Gambling in Utah
While Utah may have the veneer of a state absolutely opposed to gambling, the truth has always been that a number of residents enjoy a variety of betting games - including poker. Online poker doesn't enjoy the same level of popularity Utah as in a state like California, but that doesn't mean there isn't a sizeable contingent of online poker players from Utah taking up seats at the virtual tables of Internet poker rooms. Where to play, how to play and what state law says about playing poker online are the subjects of this Guide to Online Poker in Utah.
Update as of 2016
This section is an updated version of the original article. While the the information on this page is correct, some new legislation might be in effect since thie page was originally written. We've left the orginal article in tact below the new information.
Wasatch Poker Tour
The Wasatch Poker Tour is one way poker players get around Utah gambling laws. The WPT has 1,200 members. Players enter tournaments with prizes, though they do not pay an entry fee. Prizes are provided by the bars which host events. The Wasatch Poker Tour is a member of the United Bar Poker Tour (UBPT), a national federation of bar poker enthusiasts.
Events are held every night of the week at one of 15 Salt Lake City pubs. Prizes usually are not more than $1,000 for 1st place, though some events have a free trip to a World Series of Poker event. Those who finish in the winnings also receive league points.
Chadler Cowles, a former director of the Utah chapter of the Poker Players Alliance, said, "There's so much poker going on in this state. You'd be surprised at who you saw at a game -- doctors, lawyers, dentists, sometimes bishops, active members of every church you could imagine."
Another way people get around the injunction is to attend "free" bingo nights at local restaurants. Bingo players pay $25 or more for a cafeteria-style plate of food, then play bingo for free (and prizes) the rest of the evening. This was a phenomenon for a time in the mid-2000s, but officials cracked down on such activities.
At the local level, a compromise was made. Business cannot have word "Bingo" in their name. Play is restricted to four nights a week, or less in some cities. Cashiers must ask whether the patron wants to play bingo or not -- it's not assumed. Also, snacks must be offered at market rates.
Utah State Lottery
Utah is one of a few states which still does not have a lottery. Despite that, Utahns are said to like to play the lottery. The Deseret News reported that 19% of Idaho's lottery sales come from Utah residents, though that statistic might be hearsay.
A handful of people have started online petitions to support a state lottery, but these sites have little chance of making an impact. The UtahLottery4Utah site mainly seems to exist to sell t-shirts.
Law Enforcement on Gambling
Despite the state ban and a certain underground gambling culture, Utah law enforcement seldom seems to crack down on illegal gambling. From 2008 to 2013, only 48 illegal gambling cases were brought. These mainly involved an organized high-stakes gambling operations that charged a "rake" (a percentage of bets) or gambling at Internet cafes.
Gambling is a Class B misdemeanor in Utah, so local and state officials see little reason to prosecute gamblers. It appears that a certain amount of gambling is allowed, but only if it is discreet and under control.
Online Poker in Utah
Top Online Sites for Utah Poker Players
A quick word about how we select these sites: We focus exclusively on rooms that provide safe, reliable online poker experiences. We only list rooms that are properly and legally licensed to operate. Finally, our list of the top Utah online poker sites consists only of rooms that make it easy for players from Utah to deposit and cash out funds. With all of that out of the way, here are our picks for the best online poker experience from Utah:
Can Poker Players From Utah Play Poker Online?
Most US-friendly sites (including, obviously, those on the above list) accept players who call Utah home. That being the case, there's little difficulty involved in signing up to play poker online from Utah. The one part of the process where we get the most questions from players involves making a deposit at an online poker site; you can learn more about how that works in our guides to depositing with credit cards or services such as MoneyGram.
Online Poker and Utah Gambling Law
This section is for players who lack any familiarity with Utah gambling law. If you're already knowledgeable regarding the law and you're looking for legal advice, that's the sort of thing you should seek from professional sources.To help you get up to speed on the issue, here is a selection of excerpts from Utah law that are potentially relevant to online gambling:
- One reason why most state gambling law in the United States gets confusing is because states have to twist and contort their laws to accommodate newly introduced forms of regulated gambling. As Utah has absolutely no forms of regulated gambling, that's not an issue with Utah gambling law.
- Utah also has one of the more straightforward definitions of gambling of any state in America. Per section 76-10-1101, gambling is "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 that outcome involves an "element of chance" and it's agreed that someone "will receive something of value" in connection with that outcome.
- Individual gamblers do face a potential charge in Utah. Section 76-10-1102 assigns a misdemeanor charge to the act of participating in gambling.
- Utah law contains one of the broader (and most clearly articulated) prohibitions against simply promoting gambling. As detailed in Section 76-10-1104 - "Gambling promotion" - it's a misdemeanor if someone "derives or intends to derive an economic benefit other than personal winnings from gambling" under certain conditions.
- In both cases, the severity of the charge escalates with subsequent offenses.
Read more at the official online copy of Utah state law .
Utah-Regulated Online Poker Coming Soon?
Doubtful. As we've already discussed, Utah has one of the strictest attitudes toward gambling of any sort in the nation. With most states, you can imagine at least some scenario, sometimes a little far-fetched, in which online poker regulation might come to pass. With Utah, it is literally impossible to imagine a plausible scenario where Utah-regulated Internet poker becomes a reality.
Given the aggressive measures the state has put in place to pre-empt any participation in a federal online poker / online gambling regulatory regime, it seems safe to assert that Utah is 50 out of 50 on the list of states most likely to regulate online poker.
Utah Gambling Facts
History of Gambling in Utah
Utah is an exception to the stereotype of a typical Western territory in the 1800s. While gambling flourished across nearly all of the frontier, especially in areas focused primarily on mining and resource exploration, Utah took a position against gambling prior to its entrance into the union.
Interesting bit of trivia regarding gambling in Utah: There was a very brief period - from around 1925 to 1927 - that bets on horse races were allowed under Utah law. While there have been a number of attempts to bring regulated gambling back within Utah's borders, opponents of expansion have won the day at every turn so far. The closest Utah came to re-establishing regulated gambling was in the 1990s, when an initiative to introduce pari-mutuel betting was presented to the voting public. It was defeated by a margin of 60-40 in November of 1992.
What are the Regulated Gambling Options in Utah?
Zip, zero and zilch. There are only two states in America that don't allow any type of regulated gambling, and Utah is the continental member of that prohibitionist couple (Hawaii is the other).
While the lottery, tribal gambling and pari-mutuel wagering have made inroads in even the most socially-conservative states of the South and Southwest, Utah has remained steadfast in its absolute opposition to any activity that resembles gambling.
There have been some creative attempts in Utah to circumvent the strict gambling laws with bingo halls and poker rooms, but such attempts are generally contested by Utah law enforcement.
What About Regulated Online Gambling?
As you probably anticipated after the preceding section, there are no forms of online gambling regulated by the state of Utah. Nearly two dozen other states in the United States are investigating regulation of some type of Internet-based gambling, but the chance of Utah joining that list at any point in the foreseeable future is nil.
Recent Utah Gambling Headlines
The major news in 2012 was Utah's decision to pass a law that updated state statutes  to more comprehensively address gambling conducted online. We expect this trend of news regarding prohibition of gambling to continue to control the conversation in Utah for years to come.
Utah Gambling Resources
CityWeekly: Gambling in Utah . Feature piece from CityWeekly that takes an in-depth look at the past, present and future of gambling in Utah.
BallotPedia: Utah Gambling Initiatives . Central resource for information about all ballot initiatives - past and present - related to gambling in the state of Utah.
Gambling Law US: Utah . Complete text of the state laws of Utah with regards to gambling, including updates that cover Utah's most recent law concerning online poker.