Utah Has No Gambling, But One Lawmaker Wants To Add A Lottery

Written By Tebearau Egbe on January 4, 2024
Rep. Kera Birkeland Stands For A Portrait at the Utah State Capitol

Legislator Kera Birkeland has put forth a compelling proposition to legalize the lottery in Utah, with the primary objective of alleviating the burden of rising property taxes for seniors.

By introducing this proposal, Birkeland is thrusting Utah into the heart of discussions surrounding gambling and fiscal policies. Especially considering that the state currently stands as one of the rare few in the US without a lottery system.

This proposal not only seeks to address the financial challenges faced by seniors but also sparks a broader conversation on the intersection of gaming practices and state revenue strategies.

Utah’s comprehensive ban on gambling

Utah stands out among the five states in the United States that do not have a state lottery. It shares this distinction with Hawaii as the only two states where all forms of legal gambling are strictly prohibited.

It is worth emphasizing that in Utah, the prohibition extends beyond lotteries, encompassing all games of chance. In essence, the state maintains a comprehensive ban on any activity involving luck or randomness, setting it apart from the majority of states that embrace various forms of legalized gambling.

Birkeland argues revenue as a reason for gambling legalization

According to Birkeland, it is estimated that the state is forfeiting a potential revenue stream of up to $200 million in lottery ticket sales. Presently, this money is flowing into the coffers of neighboring states such as Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona, as Utah residents cross state lines to partake in lottery purchases.

This not only represents a missed economic opportunity for Utah but also underscores the real-world impact of divergent policies on residents’ behavior and financial flows between states.

Birkeland has put forth a comprehensive proposal that involves a constitutional amendment, necessitating the backing of two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers. And the subsequent approval by a majority of voters in the upcoming general election.

Birkeland stated in a KSL TV 5 news story:

“I’ve ran a number of bills that try to cap property taxes and try to reduce government spending, and none of them ever go anywhere. And so, for my colleagues, for individuals who are opposed to the lottery, where the revenue would reduce property taxes, I’d say, ‘Then what?’ …

I think that’s a really important conversation to have on Capitol Hill as we go into this session because that is really the No. 1 concern of my constituents. And if we need to have the conversation around a lottery to elevate that and actually address the issue, then so be it.”

Utah’s prior failed attempts at gambling legalization

Past endeavors in the legislature to revise these regulations have struggled to gain momentum. In 2018, a pivotal US Supreme Court ruling nullified a federal law prohibiting sports betting in most states.

Despite numerous states opting to legalize betting in the wake of this decision, Utah remained steadfast in maintaining its prohibition.

In 2021, a state senator from Provo introduced a bill seeking to legalize “skill-based games.” However, the proposal encountered resistance, with concerns raised about the potential gateway it might create for expanding legal gambling in Utah.

Similarly, a 2019 proposal to permit betting on horse races hit a roadblock and failed to advance.

Birkeland’s current proposal is facing opposition from a prominent figure in Utah. Governor Spencer Cox, while lacking the authority to veto constitutional amendments, expressed his disapproval during a recent monthly news conference.

This underscores the contentious nature of the proposal, with diverse opinions within the state’s leadership on the prospect of altering gambling laws signaling potential challenges for Birkeland’s initiative.

Photo by Rick Bowmer / AP Photo
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Tebearau Egbe

Tebearau Egbe has written about gambling for more than four years. She has a Master's degree in philosophy and possesses a unique ability to dissect complex industry developments, distilling them into insightful narratives for readers.

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