Utah senator shelves his own bill that would have legalized betting on horse races

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) A horse race is held at the Salt Lake County Equestrian Park in this file photo. On Monday, the sponsor of a bill legalizing parimutuel betting on horse races asked a Senate committee to return his bill to Rules, effectively ending its prospects for the 2019 session.

A proposal to legalize betting on horse races stumbled at the gate on Monday, with the sponsor asking a Senate committee to send his bill back to Rules and effectively ending its already-slim chances of advancing during the 2019 session.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said allowing wagers on horse racing could provide a “windfall” to counties that opt in, while allowing Utahns involved in the racing industry to conduct business and generate revenue in the state rather than in places like Wyoming and Idaho.

“We’re surrounded by parimutuel states,” said Hinkins, a racehorse owner.

Utah has long resisted any and all forms of gambling, with the state’s constitution prohibiting “games of chance” and legislation sponsored this year to crack down on so-called fringe gaming machines, which run on tokens or credits in lieu of direct payment.

In 1992, a ballot initiative proposing to legalize parimutuel betting was defeated by Utah voters after a campaign that saw heavy opposition from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Gary Crane, Layton City Attorney and a member of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, told members of the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee that legalizing wagers on horse races could open the door to other forms of gambling in the state.

“Even though we’d love the revenues — we really, truly would — unfortunately we don’t want to make them that way,” Crane said.

But Matt Bartlett, president of the Utah Horse Council, said that illegal gambling is already happening in Utah around horse racing while the laws push economic opportunities outside the state.

“It’s happening at the race tracks from time to time,” Bartlett said. “We should simply regulate it and gain revenue from it.”

Members of the committee had no clarifying questions for Hinkins or the members of the public who spoke on the bill. And after Hinkins moved to return his bill, SB181, to the Senate Rules Committee, North Ogden Republican Sen. Allen Christensen suggested the bill could not have passed.

“I admire your ability to count,” Christensen told Hinkins.