Utah Attorney General Supports Online Gambling

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
March 3, 2009

                Despite Utah’s recent call to have Congress leave decisions on gambling laws to individual states, expressing that it desired to maintain a zero tolerance policy on online casino gambling, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff supports the idea of online casinos in the state – permitting that it does not lead to tribal casinos or other forms of gambling in Utah. In response to gambling advocates in Las Vegas pushing for a law to legalize and regulate online gambling, Shurtleff has taken a “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” stance on the issue.

                “It’s going to happen anyway, let’s put some regulation in place,” he said.

                Shurtleff considered the idea after meeting with representatives from the Poker Players Alliance during the spring at the National Association of Attoneys General in Washington, D.C. The PPA has been working closely with Democrat Barney Frank on legislation that would create a licensing, regulatory and taxing framework for online casino gambling that will include the prohibition of underage gambling, compulsive gambling, money laundering and cheating. Frank’s bill awaits the first round of voting in a hearing at the House. It will counteract the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act of 2006, or UIGEA, which was just reintroduced as a midnight drop by the Bush Administration – mere months prior to the Obama administration’s swearing in.

                “Even though we outlawed it for two years now, it is still going on and it is highly unregulated, so you’ve got unscrupulous people rigging the system. People are getting ripped off,” said Shurtleff.

                Shurtleff’s only hesitation comes from the fact that Utah is one of two states in the U.S. that prohibits any form of gambling, including the national lottery. The allowing of one form of gambling, online casino gambling he fears, would lead to tribal casinos forming in the state of Utah. Shurtleff has asked the PPA and Frank to consider an amendment to the legislation, which would allow for Utah to maintain its ban of tribal casinos.

                John Pappas, Executive Director of the PPA, said the he did not wish for the proposal to “upset the balance struck in the Indian Gaming Regulations Act,” a law which controls gambling on reservations. He added, “Our goal is not to bring brick and mortar casinos to Utah.”

                Tribal casinos already own a number of online casino establishments, such as the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which regulates thousands of internet gambling websites. The fear that a legalized casino gambling industry would result in land casino resorts popping up in Utah is rather presumptuous.

                Shurtleff’s support of the bill comes as a shock to many legistlators in Utah, as the state has recently petitioned for gambling laws to remain a state’s decision. Gambling of any form is currently illegal in Utah, such as national lottery tickets. Utah residents currently travel to bordering states Idaho and Nevada to purchase such tickets or to gamble in a live casino. “It’s very important that states give input and get involved before agreements get signed by 152 countries,” said Representative Sheryl Allen, who advocates for states’ rights.

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