Be prepared to say goodbye to gambling in Utah.
Wait … gambling is strictly prohibited in the Beehive State. Instead, say goodbye “fringe gaming devices.”
Thanks to what Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said last year was a “loophole” in the law, the bill outlawing those machines and which clarifies “fringe gaming” received its first approval Wednesday. The bill, House Bill 23, was favorably recommended by the House Business and Labor Committee on a 11-1 vote. Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, was the lone nay vote.
The fringe gaming devices are popular in gas stations, rest stops, conveniences stores and even some fast-food restaurants around the state. They also look a lot like slot machines. So, in the eyes of the state, they have to go.
The process varies by machine, but essentially, players can put in money, play a game on the screen for a chance at a jackpot, gift cards or other prizes.
Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross recounted an investigation a few years ago between the state’s attorney’s general office and local law enforcement into the machines.
“It was clear to us throughout this process they were set up in a way to skirt around current laws in Utah regarding gambling and trying to treat it more as a game of chance or something like at McDonald’s where you pull a coupon and win a discounted Happy Meal or something,” Ross said. “They were really generating not only revenue from it, but the gifts that were being given out certainly fell into what’s controlled by our state laws in regards to gambling.”
Weiler initially proposed the bill last year in the Senate but it didn’t pass before the session ended. This year, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is sponsoring the bill in the House while Weiler will bring it through the Senate.
The senator told the Deseret News last year he proposed the bill after hearing from a constituent that her husband blew his paycheck at a machine and they didn’t have rent money.
The bill defines fringe gambling as “any gambling, lottery, fringe gaming device or video gaming device that is given, conducted, or offered for use or sale by a business in exchange for anything of value.” That does not include a promotional activity that is ancillary to a business such as the McDonald’s Monopoly contest.
“These machines for all intents and purposes are slot machines in nature,” McKell told the committee.
Steven Wuthrich, an assistant attorney general, told the committee his office was able to remove 445 machines from the state and two businesses were closed as a result of their investigation. The new machines, he said, are a tweak from the previous models. This year’s bill, he said, also better defines an “ancillary promotion” such as winning something from a soda bottle or in a Happy Meal.
He said that in his Sugar House neighborhood, he knows of three gas stations that have them and estimated there are 60 to 80 machines around the state.
“These machines are not promotional to commerce and they’re detrimental to the neighborhoods in which they’re placed,” Wuthrich concluded.