A lawmaker in Utah believes a state-run lottery could assist seniors and other residents struggling to pay their rising property taxes.
State Rep. Kera Birkeland (R) wants Utah to consider legalizing a lottery. She believes a lottery could help offset ongoing property tax hikes that are evicting some seniors from their homes. (Image: The Salt Lake Tribune)
State Rep. Kera Birkeland (R-Morgan) plans to soon introduce legislation that would initiate a ballot referendum asking voters to establish a lottery in the Beehive State.
Birkeland told KSL News that she’s heard from many of her constituents about escalating property taxes. She thinks one way to remedy the rising costs is to initiate a state-run lottery and use those proceeds to help alleviate property tax rates.
I talked to a gentleman whose dad is 92 years old, and his property tax bill has gone up so much that he is having to put his house up for sale,” Birkeland explained. “He’s paid his fair share. Why is he being forced out of his home to pay those taxes?”
Utah is among the most restrictive gaming states in the country and one of only a handful of states without a lottery. Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada are the others. Utah is also the only state without commercial or tribal casinos, iGaming, sports betting, pari-mutuel wagering, or charitable gaming.
Lottery Bill DOA
The odds aren’t exactly good that Utahans will be able to purchase a lottery ticket in their home state anytime soon. Though state legislative research suggests the state is missing out on some $200 million a year in lost revenue due to not having a lottery, the faith-rich state has for decades rejected all forms of gambling.
The prevailing denomination in Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, adamantly opposes games of chance. About six in 10 Utah residents are members of the church.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is opposed to gambling, including lotteries sponsored by governments. Church leaders have encouraged Church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling,” the church’s website explains.
The church argues that gambling is “spiritually destructive” and “motivated by a desire to get something for nothing.” Birkeland says she respects the church’s stance but is “more concerned about seniors living on fixed incomes.”
Winning over her colleagues on Capitol Hill, however, presents a difficult task.
Birkeland’s bill seeks to initiate a ballot referendum where voters would be asked to amend the Utah Constitution to allow for a state-run lottery. Any such form of gaming liberalization would require such a path because the state’s governing document currently outlaws all forms of gambling.
Gov. Spencer Cox (R) says he opposes any gaming expansion, including a lottery.
“It’s a constitutional amendment, so it doesn’t matter what I think,” Cox said last month. “The only say I would have is as a voter like everyone else.”
Birkeland is facing criticism after revealing that she’s drafting a bill to initiate a lottery referendum. She says she won’t be deterred from pursuing efforts that can help the people she represents.
“I understand that the legislation I run isn’t everyone’s favorite all the time,” Birkeland wrote on Facebook. “You can dislike it and you can dislike me. But if you ever want to have an actual conversation with me about it, I’ll meet with you at the Capitol to hear your thoughts and share some of mine. The truth is, every bill I run is because a constituent requested it.”
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