If you ask most Utahns where to go gambling, they will point to Nevada. But if you look closely in communities across our state, you can find illegal gambling machines located in convenience stores, vape shops, laundromats and beauty salons.
The fringe gambling machines look nearly identical to the games you might find in Las Vegas, Mesquite or Wendover, but they illustrate an attempt to sidestep Utah’s constitutional ban on gambling in any form.
The problem with these machines is twofold:
First, when you play a gaming machine in states with legalized gambling, there are strict regulations on where the machines can be located, restrictions on access to minors and on the percentage payout the machine must deliver. There is a reasonable, if low, chance that you will receive some winnings while you play.
The illegal gambling machines that are popping up in our cities and towns have no such regulation and amount to predatory devices designed to encourage people to spend their money with no guarantee that any winnings will be paid out at all.
Second, companies strategically place these machines to intentionally target those among us who are already suffering significant economic disadvantage.
Let’s be clear, these machines are not the same as the games that you find at nickelcades, in fast food sweepstakes or arcade games for amusement. These machines use the purchase of a gift card or other item as a pretext for the chance to win a big cash prize. However, unlike in states with legalized gambling, there is no guarantee that you will ever win a prize, and there is no way to verify if they are paying out. You could play a million times and never see any returns, and if you do happen to win, redeeming your prize can be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
Our cities have been battling these machines for years, but those who have installed these machines have continued to take advantage of perceived loopholes in the law. This is why Utah state Sen. Karen Mayne is sponsoring SB 214 - Gambling Machine and Sweepstakes Amendments this session.
This bill works to close loopholes through which these companies are operating. It does so by prohibiting fringe gaming devices, authorizing cities and counties to seize these machines, increases criminal penalties, and allows for anyone who suffered an economic loss due to these machines to bring a cause of action against anyone who operates or receives revenue from any fringe gaming device.
We support this legislation and the concrete steps that it takes to end the spread of these devices for good. If our fellow Utahns ever choose to amend the constitution to allow for gambling, we would have a regulatory system to ensure that these devices are fair.
Until that day, we need to ensure that no Utahn loses their money to a game they simply cannot win.
Mayor Ron Bigelow, West Valley City; Mayor Richard Brunst, Orem; Mayor Dirk Burton, West Jordan: Mayor Kelly Bush, Kearns Metro Township; Mayor Mike Caldwell, Ogden; Mayor Randy Lewis, Bountiful; Mayor Kristie Overson, Taylorsville; Mayor Dan Peay, Magna Metro Township; Mayor Joy Petro, Layton; Mayor Jon Pike, St. George; Mayor Jeff Silvestrini, Millcreek; Mayor Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake County; Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Salt Lake City