Joan Barron: Sorting Social Betting From Professional Gambling

Columnist Joan Barron writes, "While gambling may have grown too fast and too big in Wyoming, so has the amount of money coming into the state for schools and local governments. Gaming is a one billion dollar golden egg and growing. Big decisions ahead."

Joan Barron

May 11, 20244 min read

Joan barron headshot 5 4 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

CHEYENNE — What is a bonafide social relationship anyway?

That is a question that’s never been answered by the Legislature or the courts in Wyoming.

Yet a BSR (bonafide social relationship) is by law needed to keep a friendly game of poker or a March Madness pool at work from being tagged an illegal form of professional gambling.

Lawmaker have been chewing over the definition for years.

At one such session, former Sen. Bruce Burns, a Sheridan Republican, and member of the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife committee, shared his ideas and concerns during a break.

Burns said that during legislative sessions when he stayed in Cheyenne, he liked to play poker on Sunday afternoons. Apparently it wasn’t too hard to find people who also liked to play poker on a slow weekend day.

But could they meet the definition of a bonafide social relationship?


It probably depends where Burns found his fellow poker players.

If he couldn’t find other legislators who were interested, a logical place would be a bar. That type of meeting can result in social relationships —people talking to each other.

Maybe he found some folks in the lobby of his motel to first chat with then invite to a game.

At any rate, Burns’ committee did not shed any further light on gambling and social relationships.

And today, so-called social games of poker or sports pools are among 13 types of gambling that are exempt from regulation by the Wyoming Gaming Commission.

And many forms of gambling operate under that exemption including March Madness and bets between friends and family.

Now the Joint Interim Appropriations Committee will take a look with the aim of pinning down a definition.

During the committees meeting last week, senior assistant attorney general Michael Kahler submitted a memo recommending the Legislature provide guidance and clarification of what is required for a bona fide social relationship.

He mentioned the increase in gambling under the exemption and the differing views in Wyoming’s 23 counties from 23 counties.

“There has been uncertainty over the years statewide as to whether a social relationship must exist prior to the gambling activity taking place, or whether the social relationship can arise between strangers because they are present for the purposes of gambling.” Kohler wrote.

Colorado has a similar exemption and its appeals court has interpreted it to require case by case decisions focusing on the type of relationship between the participants.

If Wyoming decides the exemption requires a prior social relationship that would seem to rule out a bar as a place to find poker players and would move the game into the regulated professional gambling category.

The BSR definition will be only a very minor piece of a major study of gaming in Wyoming being planned by the committee and the gaming commission.

The study will include the gaming commission’s oversight capacity and the number and growth of betting locations and activity.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, a co-chairman, said the committee members need to get educated on all aspects of gaming including live horse racing.

“We want to know everything about the breeders’ cup and who the operators are and where they live, and prospects for the future,” Nicholas said.

Various comments made during the meeting suggest an unease with how quickly gaming has increased in Wyoming, particularly In the number of historic horse race terminals.

It’s kind of like buying a puppy that is growing too fast and is starting to resemble a wolf.

The consensus of the people was that they do not want the state to become another Las Vegas.

Yet many citizens relish the betting action and while the games may have grown too fast and too big, so has the amount of money coming into the state for schools and local governments.

Gaming is a one billion dollar golden egg and growing. Big decisions ahead.

Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-2534 or

Share this article



Joan Barron

Political Columnist