Utah Doubles Down on Gambling Prohibition

It’s not news that regulators in Utah are often uncomfortable allowing residents to make their own decisions about how, when, or if they engage in morally questionable behavior. The Beehive State has a well-known bee in its bonnet when it comes to alcohol, but what many non-Utahans may not know is that it is just as strict, if not more so, when it comes to preventing residents from gambling — even if they are in their own home. As federal lawmakers and many states edge toward legalizing, regulating, and taxing online wagering, some Utah legislators want to clarify the letter of their state law to make it absolutely clear that their residents don’t have a choice: gambling in Utah is illegal, whether it’s at a business, in your home, or on your smart phone.

As Eric Bianchi over at CalvinAyre.com reported last week, Utah state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom introduced legislation (HB 108) that would make it illegal for residents of the state to gambling over the Internet and on handheld devices. This is the second measure meant to address the increasing ease with which Utah residents are skirting the state’s strict gambling laws. Last month, the Utah House passed a bill (HB 40) that eliminated “vague working in the state law” that Internet cafes had reportedly been exploiting to allow online gaming — or as the bill’s sponsor Rep. Don Ipson charmingly put it, made them “havens for criminal activity.”

Utah is only one of two states in the nation that doesn’t have any form of legalized gambling, such as a casino or lottery (Hawaii is the other). But that doesn’t mean that residents aren’t doing plenty of gambling anyway.

Of course, that’s always the problem with prohibition, isn’t it? Bans never actually stop people from engaging in a behavior, it simply makes them a criminal if they do. If Utah’s Internet gambling ban is approved, especially as other states move toward legalizing the activity, Utahans will continue to gambling on and offline. Utah will lose tax revenue to neighboring states and residents will not have the protections of their government if their rights are violated while engaging in online gambling. Apparently, Utah regulators would rather try to protect the purity of the souls of their constituents rather than doing the job they are charged with which is to protect their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.