Sen. Todd Weiler says he’s shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on in Utah.
After all, it’s touted as one of only two states that supposedly bans all forms of wagering.
Friday, though, Weiler persuaded the Utah Senate to try to close a gambling loophole exploited by some businesses.
Senators voted 21-1 to pass SB225, and sent it to the House for consideration.
Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said many gas stations and convenience stores in Utah offer what look like slot machines — where people put in money, push a button, and hope spinning symbols will match for cash jackpots, just like Las Vegas machines.
While Utah outlaws risking anything of value for an uncertain return — “any game of chance” — he said these games slip through a loophole in the law. Besides offering a chance at a jackpot, for every dollar deposited they also issue a $1 gift card that may be used for merchandise at one website.
So, in theory, players are not risking money but getting at least dollar-for-dollar value. But Weiler said constituents complain it is difficult, if not impossible, to redeem the gift cards.
“I have talked to several people who have seen these devices and said, ’How can these possibly be legal, and why would the Utah Legislature allow this type of business activity to be conducted?” Weiler said.
SB225 “adopts California’s definition of gambling, which would … make it clear that these types of gas station slot machines are not allowed in Utah,” Weiler said.
It would ban “fringe gaming devices,” which it defines as providing a user with “a card, credit or product,” while also providing “the opportunity to participate in a contest, game, gaming scheme, or sweepstakes with a potential monetary return or outcome based on an element of chance.”
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, questioned the need for the legislation.
“Is this really a big issue?”
Weiler said, “It’s a big issue to my constituents. That’s why I’m running the bill.”
Dabakis then asked, “If we’re willing to follow California in gambling, why not Medicaid expansion?”
Weiler replied, “Like a broken clock, even California is probably right every once in a while.”