Utah is one of the most beautiful states in the US and home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. It also has the dubious distinction of having the most restrictive gambling regulations in the country. Officially, Utah has no legal forms of gambling. Utah passed the first anti-gambling law even before it became a state (it was the ‘State of Deseret’ at the time). Even after receiving statehood, it became no less restrictive of its citizen’s gambling freedoms.
The only legal form of gambling to ever exist in Utah was parimutuel wagering which lasted only two years from 1925 to 1927. ‘Unofficially’ there are numerous anecdotal accounts of betting on horse races in the early pioneer days in Salt Lake City. There are also accounts of betting on bicycle racing at the Saltair Pavilion on the Great Salt Lake. Clearly, these weren’t legal under state law but it appears by most accounts that it was at least tolerated to some degree.
There has been a couple of attempts to nominally legalize some forms of gambling in Utah during the past couple of decades. During the late 20 th century there was a push to allow parimutuel betting on horse races held on Utah fairgrounds. Unfortunately, the Mormon Church threw their considerable weight around and killed the plan. More recently, there has been discussion about legalizing gambling in Wendover, Utah—right across the border from the stateline gaming ‘mecca’ of Wendover, Nevada. Not surprisingly, revenues and economic conditions are much better on the Nevada side and the thinking was that this would be the only way that the Utah side could ‘level the playing field’. This was doomed from the start, not so much for the idea itself but for the precedent it would set.
Fortunately, Utah isn’t far from Nevada. Wendover, Nevada is just two hours West of Salt Lake City on Interstate 80. Beyond Wendover, the more ambitious road tripping gambler will find Elko, Winnemuca and eventually the Reno metro area. Alternately, he can hop on Interstate 15 South and six hours later find himself amid the lights and excitement of Las Vegas, Nevada. There are plenty of airlines offering reasonable flights between the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) and Las Vegas’ McCarren Airport (LAS). If you want to play the lottery, you can drive North to Idaho and soon to Wyoming (they recently enacted their own lottery into law). In the southern and central part of the state it’ll take a trip to Arizona or Colorado.
There are a lot of good things about Utah that make it one of the best places to live in United States. Unfortunately, gambling isn’t one of them.