Governor Gary Herbert signed an anti-online gambling bill into law which makes Utah become the first state to preemptively opt out of any possible federal internet poker regulation earlier this week. The bill was passed by the state legislature at the beginning of the month.
Laws are on the books against online poker in other states but if the game is sanctioned by the country, it is possible those states could decided to get involved; if neighboring states are benefitting, the decision will probably become quite clear. Utah's language specifically announces the state won't participate even if internet poker is federally approved.
"If any federal law is enacted that authorizes Internet gambling in the states and that federal law provides that individual states may opt out of Internet gambling, this state shall opt out of Internet gambling in the manner provided by federal law and within the time frame provided by that law," is included in HB108 - Utah's legislation.
The law makes playing internet poker in Utah a misdemeanor offense. John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) said they helped lobby against making it a felony - censuring the internet by blocking access to the poker sites by internet service providers was discussed.
Pappas also said, "We weren't happy with the outcome. We fought it. We worked with lobbyists there. Our state director got very involved. It's not an ideal outcome but, given Utah's history with gaming, it's not a surprising outcome."
Utah has never allowed any gambling within its borders.
When the Justice Department released the December opinion regarding the Wire Act only applying to sports betting and not affecting other forms of internet gambling, Utah introduced the bill in January as a response. The opinion found most states responding to offer Internet poker this year but Utah moved in completely the opposite direction.
"We're staying vigilant on that," Pappas said. "It will be interesting to see if other states follow this lead, but I think the PPA will be better suited to fight this in other states because other states have gaming to begin with. Utah is a state where gambling is a sin. You don't have that in other states so I think it will be much harder for other states to outlaw this."
If you are interested in protecting the right to play internet poker in your state, there's an online index of state directors created by the PPA that can be found here. You are encouraged to email your state director and find out how you can help. State directors are needed in Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota.