Utah Lottery Bill Gets Mixed Reception in Salt Lake City

Posted on: February 6, 2024, 10:47h. 

Last updated on: February 6, 2024, 10:47h.

A somewhat optimistic legislative effort to establish a lottery in Utah has gotten off to a stuttering start in Salt Lake City.

Utah lottery, Kera Birkeland, lottery bill
State Rep. Kera Birkeland, pictured above during a debate in the House, wants to use revenues from a lottery to lower property taxes for state residents. Her bill would establish one lottery outlet in each of the state’s counties. (Image: Deseret News)

Gambling bills are a rare occurrence in the state capitol — Utah is one of just two states, with Hawaii, where all forms of gambling are illegal, even church raffles.

But State Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-Morgan) is undeterred. Her bill, filed Friday, if passed, would ask Utahns to decide whether the state constitution should be amended to legalize a lottery at the 2024 ballot.

She says state residents already spend an estimated $200 million a year traveling across the state line to buy lottery tickets. She wants to use revenue generated by a future lottery to lower property taxes.

Utah is one of just five US states without a lottery. The others are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada.

Realizing how much people are already spending [on the lottery] outside our state — to me it just seemed like, ‘Well, if we really wanted to be serious about it, we could just use that funding,’” Birkeland told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We wouldn’t even have to ask anyone else to change their habits at all and we would have quite a large influx of money.”

The resolution would create one designated location in each county that would be licensed to sell tickets.

Mormon Opposition

While gambling bills are rare in the state, the enactment of such bills is even rarer. In fact, it’s never happened. Utah has held a constitutional prohibition on gambling since it was granted statehood in 1896.

That’s largely to do with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose members account for just over half the population.

The Mormon Church opposes “all forms of gambling” on the grounds that it is “spiritually destructive.”

Utah last saw a gambling bill in 2019. That’s when Sen. David Hinkins (R-Orangeville) filed legislation that would have asked voters to authorize parimutuel horse race betting on a county-by-county basis. But it didn’t make it to the Senate floor.

Long Odds

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers (R-Cedar City) gives Utah’s new lottery bill similar a similar prognosis.

“I would probably bet quite a bit of money in Vegas that it wouldn’t pass,” he said.

But not everyone was closed to the idea. House Speaker Mike Schultz (R-Hooper) said he would be prepared to let state residents decide on the matter.

“Well, it’ll save me some money going to Evanston (Wyoming) to buy lottery tickets,” he quipped.

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