Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee Report
By: Pete Obermueller, WCCA Executive Director
The topic of interest at Tuesday’s Joint Travel Rec (as we lobbyists shorten the name) was regulation of gaming in Wyoming. When considering gambling in Wyoming, most of us think either of the lottery or of the casinos operated by the tribes in Fremont County. The discussion on Tuesday focused more on unregulated gaming in the form of pull tabs and bingo, specifically a draft bill that would make the Pari-mutuel Commission – a state agency that regulates live and historic horse racing – a new gaming commission that would regulate other games. Charles Moore, Executive Director of the Pari-Mutuel Commission, testified, along with Senator Bruce Burns, who drafted the potential legislation. I offered thoughts on gaming’s role in providing a source of revenue to counties.
If you are not familiar, pull tabs can be purchased in individual cards that have five tabs that you pull off to reveal if your card is a cash winner. For lack of a better explanation, they are essentially legal versions of scratch tickets. Wyoming law allows for pull tabs and bingo if they are operated by non-profit clubs, fraternal organizations, churches or charities. Mr. Moore estimated 375 or more pull tab locations in Wyoming. There is no hard data on how much money is spent on pull tabs, but anecdotal evidence points to several million dollars annually. Bingo is more often used for charity or churches, and Mr. Moore estimates 40 or more bingo locations in the state.
Rep. Clem: What exactly is the problem we are trying solve with this bill?
Answer (Sen. Burns): We are not so concerned with bingo, but the potential for fraud and abuse in pull tabs exists. Right now if you think you have been defrauded by either of these games, there is no one to report it to other than local law enforcement. Local law enforcement is not likely to do anything about it.
Rep. MacGuire: Can we have the liquor division be the approved distributor of pull tabs so we know that they are legitimate tabs with winners, rather than have a new gaming commission?
Answer (Sen. Burns): The liquor division is not my preference because that would be giving them a task that is not in their current job description. Also, it solves a problem I’m not aware exists that the pull tabs themselves don’t actually have any winning tickets. The Pari-mutuel Commission is already regulating gaming and could more easily step into this role for fraud or collusion prevention by the vendors themselves.
Answer (Mr. Moore): My Commission has not voted on this, but from a staffing perspective we would have the capacity to take this responsibility depending on the level of oversight contemplated. Selecting and requiring an approved vendor list would be easy and would help some of this, but if you wanted spot audits we would likely need to hire additional staff.
My testimony stayed focused on the budgetary impact of counties without making any value judgments about gaming in general. I discussed the role counties play both as permitting agencies and law enforcement. After outlining for the committee the current state of county revenue sources from property and sales tax, I indicated that all regulated gaming in Wyoming has a revenue stream dedicated to local government. I argued that to the extent the legislature is willing to expand gaming, or provide for counties to seek local voter approval for expanding gaming, revenue from those sources could be a means to offset potential reductions in direct distribution revenue. I alerted the committee that if they chose to create a gaming commission that regulates bingo and pull tabs, I would likely come with a legislative suggestion on how to direct some of that revenue to counties in a way that does not dip into the fund raising potential for charities.
Rep. Clem offered two motions, one to move forward with a draft concept bill to create a gaming commissioner for further discussion at their next meeting. That motion passed on a 10 – 1 vote. His second motion was to draft a bill to ban pull tabs outright because they are instant gratification tickets that are otherwise banned in the state. That motion failed on a 5 – 6 vote.
*Note: remember that questions and answers in italics are paraphrased, not exact quotes.