Utah Becomes First State To Opt Out Of Any Federal Online Poker Regulations

With several states at least considering the option of intrastate online poker and the federal government still seemingly entertaining the idea of licensing and regulating the industry, the state of Utah has decided to head in the other direction.

Earlier this last week, Governor Gary Herbert signed into law a bill that makes online poker illegal in the Beehive State. The bill, titled HB108, was passed earlier this month by the Utah House by a 62-10 vote and sailed through the Senate unanimously. In enacting this new legislation, Gov. Herbert has made Utah the ninth state to officially have a law on the books that outlaws online poker and gaming, making it a misdemeanor crime under its statutes (it was considered to make it a felony). Additionally, the language of the bill has far reaching effects that will impact citizens of the state in the future.

Not only did the Utah legislation prohibit online poker in the state, it also stepped into the future regarding any potential for citizens to play in a federally legislated online gaming realm. A particular clause in the bill firmly states, “If any federal law is enacted that authorizes internet gambling in the (country) and that federal law provides that individual states may opt out, this state shall opt out of internet gambling in the manner provided by federal law.”

Effectively, this clause will handcuff a future legislature or Governor from allowing its citizens to be able to participate in a federally regulated online poker industry. To be able to participate, it would take an overturn of HB108 by the state’s government, something that is highly unlikely in a state that has never allowed any form of gambling, including lotteries.

The passage of the Utah bill has been preceded by several attempts in other states that, for the most part, have lacked success. The state of Hawaii who, like Utah, has no form of gambling inside its borders, shot down proposed bills that would have not only opened up online poker but also lotteries and live casino gaming. A Mississippi bill that would have legalized and regulated internet gaming in the state died in committee slightly more than a week ago.

In the state of Iowa earlier this month, the House of Representatives refused to consider a bill that was passed by the Senate regarding the issue. That bill, Senate File 2257, was passed by the Senate by a 29-20 vote, but was shot down by the House due to an Assembly set deadline for non-revenue proposals to move through the General Assembly.

California continues to debate a bill, Senate Bill 1463, that would open up the Golden State to an online poker operation. That bill, if passed, would bring online poker to its citizens for a two year period with the option of bringing in other casino games after that timeframe. The bill has been heavily debated by both pro- and anti-gaming groups and its passage is not a guaranteed deal.

In New Jersey, potential online poker legislation was vetoed last year by Governor Chris Christie, who was concerned at the time about the expansion of gambling outside of Atlantic City. He changed his stance on the subject just after the New Year, however, and legislation was proposed to get New Jersey in the game. As of this time, though, the legislative actions regarding online poker have seemingly stalled in the Garden State.

Federal action regarding online poker has also seen a slowdown in action. After several committee meetings in late 2011 regarding the issue, the push for federal regulation of the industry has ground to a halt. At this time, the only legislation that could be considered by either chamber of Congress is House Representative Joe Barton’s HR 2366, entitled “The Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011.”

The only state that is moving forward with online poker legislation at this time is Nevada, which is looking to have an intrastate online poker network in operation by the end of 2012. The Nevada Gaming Control Board has regulations in effect and has started receiving applications for licenses from potential operators and service providers. To date, nearly 30 potential applications have been received and are under consideration, including applications from such powerhouse companies as Caesars Entertainment and 888 Holdings, MGM Resorts International, Boyd Gaming, Bwin.Party and Fertitta Interactive, among others.

The District of Columbia, who would have joined Nevada as the only states to license and regulate online poker, recently overturned previously passed legislation that authorized online poker inside the District’s borders.

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