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Companies say new gambling bill will shut down their operations; Lawmakers waiting for governor’s signature

Posted at 6:53 PM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 20:53:15-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill on "fringe gambling" passed through the State Senate on Thursday and is waiting for Governor Gary Herbert’s signature before it becomes law.

Senator Karen Mayne proposed the bill, calling gambling in Utah a “cancer” to the community.

Matt Pascal, the owner of Forty-fifth State Games said their company is trying to be good corporate citizens.

“Our machine is not a gambling machine,” said Pascal. “Our machine is a gift-card kiosk.”

Putting $10 into the machine may not seem like a lot of money, but it purchases as $10 gift-card and gives the patron entry into the company’s sweepstakes — what some people might call it gambling.

“We’re not gambling because we’re selling,” said Pascal. “That’s the business, is buying the gift cards and we offer a promotion. The sweepstakes is secondary, the business is the primary.”

Pascal’s machines will likely disappear if the new bill is signed by the Governor.

Nathan Bracken, the Kearns City Attorney, helped draft the bill and said it doesn’t matter if the various companies putting out these machines say they’re legal.

“They are reading absences in the law as expressed operation and that’s not the way it works,” said Bracken.

The impact of gambling on Bracken’s city is the same, no matter if the machine is skill-based or a fringe gambling device.

“The problem here is the constitution makes gambling illegal and so we get all of the impacts of gambling and none of the resources to deal with them,” said Bracken.

The unregulated nature of the game makes the tax payers subsidize the operations in these multi-million dollar companies, said Bracken.

The companies will make millions and then, Bracken said, their city can’t shut down the operation, leaving small, competing businesses and low-income families to suffer.

The new bill includes a section for those who have suffered economic losses, allowing them to bring suit and recover up to twice the amount of their losses.

And for Pascal and other companies, the new bill could mean losing their business in the Beehive State.

“There is no gambling in the state of Utah and we don’t feel we’re gambling,” said Pascal.