Utah is one of two U.S. states with a 100% ban on gambling, so Utah’s gambling laws are tied with Hawaii for the strictest and least forgiving. A person in Utah cannot legally gamble at brick-and-mortar casinos, sportsbooks, online poker sites, or race tracks with pari-mutuel wagering. Utah has no state lottery and it certainly does not allow Powerball or Mega Millions lottery betting. Even charitable gambling in bingo halls is considered illegal.
While Utah’s gambling laws leave no gray area for gamblers, that does not mean Utah’s ban is 100% effective. Like any activity which is popular, bans do not work. Utah online gamblers therefore sign up at unregulated offshore online casinos, poker rooms, sportsbooks, and bingo halls. We do not recommend Utah players sign up for online gambling sites, but it would be naive to believe Utahans do not gamble.
Utah’s state gambling laws are rigid and its punishments are harsh. Not only do illegal gaming operators face jail time and fines like they would in other states, but they also face charges of thievery if they do not let their customers know what the odds for their games are. Since many underground gaming dens do not post the house edge, the law targets many illegal gaming operators. As of 2019, Utah also has a fringe gambling law which targets sweepstakes cafe owners. In short, don’t run illegal gaming syndicates in Utah.
76-10-1101. Definitions. What is Gambling?
(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.
(b) “Gambling” includes a lottery and fringe gambling.
(c) “Gambling” does not include:
(i) a lawful business transaction; or
(ii) playing an amusement device that confers only an immediate and unrecorded right of replay not exchangeable for value.
Utah bans all forms of gambling, so it goes to great lengths to define what gambling is and isn’t. Section 76-10-1101 notes that lawful business transactions and arcade games are not considered gambling. Despite a multifaceted definition of gambling, certain types of slot machines and sweepstakes machines existed in a legal gray area until 2019. That is why Mike McKell introduced a fringe gambling bill to the Utah legislature.
76-10-1101. Definitions. What is Fringe Gambling?
(a) “Fringe gambling” means any gambling, lottery, or video gaming device which is:
(i) given, conducted, or offered for use or sale by a business in exchange for anything of value; or
(ii) given away incident to the purchase of other goods or services.
(b) “Fringe gambling” does not mean a promotional activity that is clearly ancillary to the primary activity of a business.
In February 2019, State Rep. Mike McKell (R-Spanish Fork) sponsored HB23, a bill which defines fringe gambling and sets down punishments. The bill passed by a 69-2 vote. “Fringe gambling” is the Utah term for Internet sweepstakes cafes, which have sweepstakes machines (computers) that act similar to slot machines. If you run a sweepstakes cafe in Utah, you’ll be punished for fringe gambling. Presumably, any slot machine-like gaming machines would be considered fringe gambling.
76-10-1103. What is Gambling Fraud?
(1) A person is guilty of gambling fraud if he participates in gambling and wins or acquires to himself or another any gambling proceeds when he knows he has a lesser risk of losing or greater chance of winning than one or more of the other participants, and the risk is not known to all participants.
(2) A person convicted of gambling fraud shall be punished as in the case of theft of property of like value.
Utah puts special emphasis on “gambling fraud”, which appears to include gambling cheats and gaming operators who don’t publish the real odds of their gaming. This is a harsh law, because it treats the fraudster like it treats a property thief. In addition to gambling charges, the fraudster is charged with thievery.
No, gambling is not legal in the state of Utah. Any and all forms of gambling are 100% restricted in Utah. Because a majority of the population is Mormon — and a majority of its lawmakers — it is illegal to gamble in any way in Utah. While many states in the deep south of the USA restricts gambling severely, not even Alabama, Tennessee, or South Carolina have a comprehensive ban on gambling. Utah does.
In fact, Hawaii is the only state in the Union besides Utah to 100% ban gambling. Hawaii’s statutes discuss how gambling brings players and operators into disrepute. Utah does not have such high-flown language. It simply bans all forms of gambling.
Utah Online Poker Laws
No. Since Utah does not have legal land-based gambling, it is no surprise that the state bans online poker and online casinos.
No. Sports betting and daily fantasy sports are illegal in Utah. If you want to gamble, you’ll need to drive across the border into Nevada.
No. Utah bans all forms of gambling, including brick-and-mortar casinos.
No. Though many states which outlaw other forms of gambling legalize horse racing (example: Kentucky), Utah even bans pari-mutuel wagering. The Utah Horse Racing Commission exists, though it regulates non-gaming horse races in the state.
The Racing Commission’s duty is to “license, regulate, and supervise all persons involved in the racing of horses” and to “license, regulate, and supervise all recognized race meets held in this state.” These race meets do not involve pari-mutuel wagering, though, because gambling is strictly illegal in Utah.
No. Utah has not off-track betting facilities or betting shops. If you want to enjoy simulcasting at an OTB facility, you need to drive into Nevada.
No. Though non-profit charitable gambling is considered among the harmless forms of gambling which help civic, religious, and veterans’ organizations, the Utah legislature maintains a strict 100% ban on charitable bingo and raffles.
Yes. Because Utah has a strict ban on most forms of gambling, its legislature is not always responsive to the newest forms of gaming. Social casino games found on sites like Facebook are considered harmless (and are). Since they do not allow people to sign up for real money gambling, Utah has not passed laws banning social gaming sites.
If you want to play for free on Big Fish Games, Double Down Casino, Slotomania from Playtika, or Zynga, it is legal to do so at the moment. Do not pay for bonus chips, because that might be considered illegal gambling. A current Washington State lawsuit involves Big Fish Games, which some consider gambling (despite the free chips).
PlayMGM, a free-to-play casino site owned by MGM Resorts, is not active in Utah. MGM Resorts provides real life rewards for freeplay on PlayMGM, so its use in Utah could lead to questions of legality.
Social card games played in the privacy of one’s home are legal, so long as no gambling takes place. The way the laws are written, a poker game with small cash wagered presumably would not be considered illegal, so long as the organizer does not collect a rake from each hand.