Utah Poker / Gambling Laws

A Guide to Poker in the State of Utah

Utah Gambling Laws

In this guide to poker in Utah you can first find a quick glimpse of gambling regulations in the State, before looking at the laws which directly affect poker. The options for live players are covered next followed by this State’s position on online poker.

A Brief Overview of Gambling in Utah

Gambling has been outlawed in Utah since the beginning of the State. There were brief flirtations with a trial of horse track betting in the 1920s, although even the pooled betting method used in many States did not gain the favor of the lawmakers.

Games which offer a gambling experience yet are not competed for with real money are permitted in Utah. These games include free poker leagues which run in bars and bingo cards given out at restaurants. Small prizes are normally offered to add an interest, while the establishments benefit from the extra sales of food and drink.

While these games are fun and sociable, serious gamblers and poker players need to travel out of Utah and into Nevada to find decent games for real money.

Is Poker Legal in Utah?

No type of poker game played for real money is legal in Utah. No casinos operate in the State and home games are banned under this rule.

According to Section 76-10-1101 (2):

“ "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.”

By including an ‘element of chance’ the law automatically covers poker, as even the most determined “skill game” argument has to accept the game does include some luck.

Any player caught up in illegal gambling will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, while repeat offenders see this increase to Class A, which can carry up to a $2500 fine and a year in jail. Organizers of these games are faced with stiffer penalties and can incur Felony charges.

Where can Utah Residents Play Live Poker?

With no legal casinos and charity tournament not permitted the only place you can openly play poker is in the free to enter bar leagues. These allow players to compete for free and usually award leader-board points, with prizes given to highest finishers at the end of a season. Some bars run these independently while other leagues spread themselves over several venues. One such example is the Wasatch Poker Tour which offers several events each night throughout their county.

While these events are good social fun, anyone wanting to get real card action needs to take the drive along Interstate 80 to Wendover, over in Nevada. This former truck stop town has grown significantly thanks partially due to the gambling dollars crossing over from Utah. Wendover now hosts five casinos along with entertainment venues and Utah players can find all the poker games they only dream of at home.

The Status of Online Poker in Utah

Unsurprisingly online poker was also considered banned in Utah under the old Statutes. This State took this a stage further in 2012 by passing new legislation specifically outlawing internet gambling, along with terms that would exempt Utah if Federal regulation ever occurred.

Many offshore sites have pulled out of Utah after this law was passed, although some still continue. There are many Americans both in Utah and across the country who enjoy these games every day and no-one has yet been prosecuted for playing online. While it seems unlikely law enforcement will start raiding people’s homes for playing poker on their computers, players must judge the risks for themselves.

In Summary – Utah Poker

Utah remains a dry gambling State. The only positive Utah poker players have is their proximity to Nevada, and thousands of Utah gamblers and poker players make the short trip each year. Other than this, legal games are limited to bar leagues.

With recent legislation banning online poker, including exemptions to Federal acceptance, it seems highly unlikely there will ever be regulated games running in Utah.