Feb 7, 2024 - Politics

Why Utah doesn't have a lottery — and one lawmaker's push to change that

Illustration of a scratch card in the shape of Utah, with the scratch off area revealing the words "Try Again".

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Utah is one of five states that doesn't run a government-operated lottery, prompting residents to spend tens of millions of dollars a year to play lotteries elsewhere.

The big picture: HJR 24, sponsored by Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-Morgan), would allow voters to decide whether to alter the Utah Constitution to authorize a state-operated lottery.

  • The measure would require two-thirds majority support in each chamber to proceed to the 2024 ballot.
  • Birkeland told KSL NewsRadio that establishing a lottery in Utah would bring in another stream of tax revenue to the state to offset reduced property taxes.
  • She pointed out that Utahns already spend approximately $200 million a year on lotteries in other states.

Catch up fast: Before Utah became a state in 1896, early Church president Brigham Young established that gambling was not welcome.

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes gambling and government-sponsored lotteries, calling the desire to do so "spiritually destructive."
  • "Church leaders have encouraged Church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling," according to its website.
  • The majority of state lawmakers are Latter-day Saints.

Of note: A spokesperson directed Axios to the Church's website on gambling when asked whether leaders planned to weigh in on the proposed measure.

By the numbers: About 42% of Utahns are members of the Church, according to a 2023 study published in the Journal of Religion and Demography.

What they're saying: The view of getting money for little effort is "what's driving in part the [Latter-day Saints] narrative against gambling," David Scott, a communication professor at Utah Valley University, told us.

What's next: Birkeland's measure, which was publicly introduced last week, faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

  • While House Speaker Mike Schultz has expressed intrigue in the bill, Senate President Stuart Adams on Friday said the odds of the proposal succeeding in his chamber are slim, Utah News Dispatch reported.
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