Despite Utah's ban on all forms of gambling and the LDS Church's
official pronouncements against gambling, many Utahns still gamble.
Hard statistics are hard to find for Utah, for several reasons.
if you ask them directly, people feel guilty and dislike admitting
they have gambled or still do gamble.
- Second, illegal gambling places are not going
to publish statistics.
- Finally, although casinos in Nevada try hard to get Utahns to come
there, most do not have publicly available statistics about which
gamblers came from where.
Nevertheless, we do know some things about gambling in Utah:
Utahns are estimated to spend about $6 million
annually on the Idaho lottery. And the two most prolific Idaho
lottery ticket retailers are stores on the Utah-Idaho border. Owners
of La Tienda in Franklin and the Kwik Stop in Malad City say nearly
100 percent of their lottery sales come from people driving cars with
Utah license plates.
I know of no good statistics for Utah, but an informal poll indicates
that many people participate in office pools and brackets. Very few
of these people realize that these pools are illegal if there is any
money exchanged--not just in Utah, but in most of the United States.
The only places you can bet on sports legally are Nevada, and
to a limited extent in Oregon (through the "lottery").
In 2003 illegal sports betting through bookies (office pools excluded)
was estimated to be about $100 billion in the US (meaning that $10
billion was lost to bookies and the rest changed hands from losers to
For more about illegal sports betting, look at this
article from USA Today.
There are at least three semi-legal poker houses in Utah: "Club Full
House" in Layton, "Big SLC" (formerly in Sandy, and looking to
relocate), and "The Flop House" in Orem. Big SLC was essentially shut
down by Sandy City officials as of 4/20/2005, but they claim to be
planning to reoopen elsewhere soon.
These places claim they are not gambling because
- they claim that the form of poker they play, Texas Hold 'Em, is a
game of skill rather than chance and
- they claim that players are not paying for a chance to win--just
for a chance to play. Chips are not interchangeable for money, but
winners do usually win significant prizes of value.
I find both of these arguments to be questionable, but two of
them are still in business for now.
There are also apparently lots of illegal poker games going on (See
Matt Canham, "The State of Gambling."
The Salt Lake Tribune. Salt Lake City, Utah: May 23,
2004. pg. A.1)
Private games of poker also appear to be very big all over the state.
Several of my BYU students confess to having played regularly before
President Hinckley's talk in April, 2005--now they claim they've quit.
This was maybe 10% of those I asked, but I assume that many more are
too embarrassed to admit they play or played. Those that told me
about their games say that they normally did not play for money,
although sometimes there was an entrance fee to play and the winner
did, in fact, get much of the sum collected.
According to the Deseret News
(Elaine Jarvik "Poker's popularity worries Utah officials." Salt Lake
City, Utah: Dec 28, 2004. pg. A.01) Poker paraphernalia sold very well
in Salt Lake City at Christmas time. "`Poker paraphernalia is about
the hottest item that we're carrying this Christmas,' said Smith's
Marketplace spokesperson Marsha Gilford. `It's flying out of the store
as fast as we get it in.'"
Stock market gambling:
All investments have a certain degree of risk, and most investments in
the stock market are legitimate. But there are easy ways to make
"investments" that are very like casino gambling. The main ways to do
- Day trading, which means that you buy a stock
hoping it will go up the same day and then sell it before the end of
the day. Although legitimate stocks prices tend to increase over the long
run (years) because the company is producing real goods or services of
real value, stock prices fluctuate a lot from hour to hour due to
random effects (e.g., news of a frost in Florida one morning will
temporarily reduce the stock price of Dole, whose oranges might be
I know of at least one faculty member at BYU who has large debts from
day trading. And at least one of my BYU students admitted to me that
he was addicted to day trading. Many of my students engage in day
trading but claim they are not addicted and they believe they are
not gambling because they use "skill" or have a "system" for winning.
The vast majority of day traders lose a lot of money. In the late
nineties, the SEC ran a study that estimated that 77% of day traders
lost money at a time that most of the market was
growing very quickly.
Almost all of these day traders think that they are somehow special
and won't be like those others--they believe that they are smarter or
faster than the other traders or that they have some system that will
make them rich, or that they are more lucky than others, or even that
God wants them to be rich.
- Options and Futures trading. Options and
futures allow you to make
high stakes bets that a stock or a commodity or a currency will
increase or decrease in price. They have legitimate uses as a form
of insurance for organizations who must deal in these commodities or
currencies. For example, the LDS Church can and should use currency
futures to protect itself against the fact that tithing paid in
dollars will have to be used to pay builders of churches who want to
be paid in pesos and euros. If the dollar sinks against the peso,
that will cost the Church a lot of money, so the Church can buy
currency futures that "lock in" the exchange rate for the period
that they care about.
But when an average Joe "invests" in these
things it is generally just gambling. He is just betting that
this essentially random event will turn out the way he predicts,
in the hopes that he will get rich quickly.
Stock market gambling is not illegal, but can be very addictive. For
more, see the article
I am not sure if anyone has any idea how many Utahns go regularly to
Nevada to gamble, but it is enough to support 5 casinos in Wendover--a
place whose primary (only?) draw is as a place for Utahns to gamble.
As with poker, there are several Bingo parlors in Utah,
including Southgate Social Center, Jackpot Bingo, and Riverdale Dinner
and Bingo. These argue that they are legal because you don't pay for the
bingo--it is just entertainment that comes with your meal.
In July 2005 West Valley prosecutors tried to close down a bingo parlor
using the arguement that when you pay $25 for
something that would cost only a few dollars elsewhere, then the
"meal" is a sham to make the gambling look legal. However, in January
2006, the jury in the case sided with the defense, who argued that
patrons have the option of playing without buying the meal.