Gambling and Gaming Law class gives students an inside track on a niche legal industry

As one of only two states with no form of legal gambling, Utah might seem like an odd place to find a class focused on gambling law. But at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, future lawyers can spend a semester learning the ins and outs of the legal side of the gambling industry in the college’s “Gambling & Gaming Law” course.

Students in professor Jennifer Roberts’ “Gambling and Gaming Law” course at the S.J. Quinney College of Law pose during a field trip to Las Vegas. 

The class provides an overview of gambling, different types of gambling, how it is regulated, why states legalize it, problem gambling, and how to get and maintain a gambling license.

The class is generously sponsored by William (“Bill”) Boyd, 1957 alumnus of the College of Law and chairman of Boyd Gaming Corporation. Boyd grew up in a casino and his father was a blackjack dealer. After he received his law degree and worked in the legal field for several years, Boyd and his father joined forces and started to build casinos, creating Boyd Gaming Corporation from the ground up.

Boyd approached Jennifer Roberts, a 2002 College of Law alumna, to teach the class in the fall of 2016. As the associate director of the UNLV International Center for Gaming Regulation and owner of Roberts Gaming Law, Roberts had the knowledge and expertise to develop an in-depth curriculum that examines all sides of gaming law. Though she is based in Las Vegas, she flies to Salt Lake City weekly to teach the class and hold study sessions.

“Even the last week, right before finals, she flew out here just in case we had any questions and to calm our anxieties about the exam,” said Dallas West, a third-year law student who took the class last fall. “She’s very hard working, very knowledgeable, and just a happy, go-lucky person. I loved being in her class.”

According to Roberts, gaming law is a more robust industry than people might realize. There are 45 states with a lottery, 40 states with casino gambling, four states with internet gambling, and eight states with sports wagering. All have their own unique legal issues.

“Although most people think that gaming is slot machines and table games, it’s actually much more prevalent than that,” Roberts said. “There are many opportunities in the area of gaming law, including private law firms, in-house attorneys with gambling companies, government attorneys or regulators, and academia.”

Even students who don’t plan on pursuing a career specifically in gaming law can find something valuable from the fairly new course at the College of Law, Roberts said.

“Gaming law consists of many areas of law, whether it is working with corporations (business law), riverboat or cruise ship casinos (maritime law), customer disputes (contracts), injuries on the casino floor (torts), or representing clients before regulators (administrative law),” Roberts said.

Besides the subject matter, the class is also unique because it includes a field trip to Las Vegas towards the end of the semester. This isn’t a chance for students to try their own luck with gambling, but instead it’s an opportunity to meet important figures in the Las Vegas gaming law world and see behind the scenes of casinos and other gaming institutions.

“In a classroom, it’s easy to learn about concepts and processes, but it’s easier to understand them in the practical, real-world setting,” Roberts said. “This trip gave the students an opportunity to see how casinos interface with customers, and the legal and regulatory issues that can arise.”

This past fall, students learned about gambling regulation from Terry Johnson, a member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. They received an overview of sports wagering by meeting with sports book operators. The class also met Bill Boyd and toured one of his casino properties.

Students can certainly learn a lot on fields trips like this, but equally important are the connections students make, said West, one of the students in Roberts’ course.

“I think the networking aspect of the class is so valuable,” said West. “Even if you’re not interested in gaming law, that’s not the only type of law practice in Nevada. And all the alums and people we met could possible open doors for us in one way or another.”

The innovative class is one of many ways the College of Law offers unique course offerings that interest and engage future lawyers. And though many students will first be enticed by the promise of a trip to Las Vegas, they’ll leave with in-depth knowledge of gaming law that can be used and applied in their future careers.