Utah became the first state to preemptively opt out of any potential federal Internet poker regulation this week when Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law an anti-online gambling bill passed by the state legislature at the beginning of the month.
There are other states that have laws on the books against online poker, but it is still possible they could decide to get involved if the game is sanctioned by the country and it is seen that many neighboring states are benefiting. Utah is the first to include language specifically announcing it will not participate in any federally approved Internet poker.
The legislation, titled HB108, includes the clause: "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."
Utah is one of only two states that has never allowed gambling of any form within its borders.
"We weren’t happy with the outcome," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance. "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."
The law also makes it a misdemeanor offense to play Internet poker in Utah. It could have been worse. Pappas said the PPA helped lobby against making it a felony and a discussed censuring of the Internet by forcing Internet service providers to block access to the sites.
The Utah bill was introduced in January as a response to the December opinion from the Justice Department that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting and not other forms of Internet gambling. Many states responded to the opinion by at least considering legislation to offer Internet poker this year. Utah is the first state to respond by going the other way, which is not a direction the PPA wants to see become a trend.
"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."
For people interested in protecting the right to play Internet poker in their state, the PPA has created an online index of its state directors and encourages people to email the director in their state to find out how they can get involved. The PPA is still looking for state directors in Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.
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