Wyoming Bill Would Regulate Sports Betting by 2021

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  • House Bill 225 calls for the legalization of online and mobile sports betting
  • Lawmakers hope the regulated market will open no later than January 1, 2021
  • Licenses would cost an initial fee of $20,000 and remain active for 12 months
  • Another bill calls for the creation of a state gaming commission

CHEYENNE — A state gaming commission passed its first hurdle in the Wyoming Senate on Wednesday, marking the first formal step to legalize gambling in the Cowboy State.

The bill to enact the commission advanced by a vote of 46-14. Sponsored by the Joint Committee on Travel, Recreation and Cultural Resources, the bill has picked up some momentum in recent months, after an initial attempt was introduced, killed and subsequently revived last year.

Republican Rep. Jamie Flitner — a reluctant supporter — said it was not a perfect piece of legislation but a necessary one, as unregulated gaming in Wyoming has “spread like wildfire.” Critics, however, called the legislation an unfunded mandate.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe previously lobbied against expanding legalized gaming, seeing it as a potential threat to a critical revenue stream, but the tribe spoke in favor of the legislation last week.

The legislation has had some resistance, however, counting a number of individuals with gaming industry ties anxious that the gaming commission — as proposed under the bill — goes too far.

Some expressed concerns about the potential for being regulated by the Pari-Mutuel Commission, which oversees the state’s horse racing operations. Others were concerned about an opt-in provision in the bill which would have allowed voters to decide to legalize gaming in their own municipalities, which some believed could be a “de facto prohibition” in communities where gaming operations already exist.

For the state, the Legislation could be a significant revenue driver, gaining an endorsement from Joint Appropriations co-chair Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, as potentially being one of the most important bills considered this year. Since 2013, Wyoming has generated more than $62 million in total revenues for the state, with $24 million in local revenues generated for the municipalities in which they operate, according to a joint study commissioned by two horse racing organizations released in October.

Several other bills regulating some types of gaming — like the legalization of online sports betting are also being discussed this legislative session. Generally speaking, the gaming industry has tended to support a piecemeal approach to the issue.

Others — like a proposed change to the definition of games of skill to those between two living participants — would effectively outlaw coin-operated games which, while unregulated, have come to be seen as an important source of revenue for dozens of businesses around the state.

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