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Online gambling in Utah will stay illegal, but new proposal still causing concern

Published: Thursday, Dec. 9 2010 11:55 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Online gambling would remain illegal in Utah even if a last-minute attempt to allow betting on Internet poker by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid succeeds.

Even so, it's causing concern in Utah.

"Supposedly, there is an opt-out for the states," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Thursday. "But once you open this up, it's almost impossible to put that genie back in the bottle."

Chaffetz said Reid's proposal would be tough to enforce. "It's going to be almost impossible to monitor, and it's going to be very easy for people to get around," he said, including by gamblers in Utah.

Utah Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts agreed. "Enforcing gambling laws can be problematic," Roberts said.

And while Utah and Hawaii are the only states that ban all forms of gambling, Roberts said the online poker bill could run afoul of gambling laws in other states, too.

Roberts said he did not expect any state would be forced to accept online gambling. "If the federal government were attempting to override all those state laws in one fell swoop, that's not something you can sneak into a tax bill," he said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Politico Wednesday that Reid and his staff have approached senators about adding the online poker proposal during the lame-duck session to legislation extending the Bush-era tax cuts.

"They're trying," Hatch told the online news source.

Reid's office has kept quiet about the proposal since it surfaced late last week as a way to generate additional tax revenue. A spokesman for Reid did confirm states would be able to choose whether to allow online poker.

Various news sources have reported Reid's proposal will help some of his biggest donors, corporations that own Nevada's major casinos, by permitting them to set up their own Internet poker sites.

Complaints from smaller casino owners that the proposal would cost them business were heard Wednesday at a state tourism conference in Nevada, The Associated Press reported.

An online commentary on Forbes.com, however, called legalizing online gambling "a no-brainer" that "could result in increased tax revenue, job creation and economic growth."

"I don't know exactly what the motivations are, but the end result is going to be more gambling," Chaffetz said. "Which is going to be just morally, I think absolutely unpalatable for the direction we ought to be going in this country."

The proposal would overturn a 2006 effort by Congress to ban online gambling by making it illegal for credit card companies to process funds related to such activities.

Outgoing Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, sponsored a resolution in the 2009 Legislature backing the ban. "Utah has made it clear time and time again that it does not want to have gambling," Allen said.

She predicted Utah lawmakers will come up with a resolution next session opposing any attempt to legalize online gambling. "The Legislature," Allen said, "has been intolerant of gambling."

Contributing: Mary Richards

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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