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$76 Million Gambled in Wyoming Since Online Sports Betting Was Legalized; 28,000 People Have Tried

in News/Gambling
Photo illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Although online sports betting is still in its infancy in Wyoming, at least 28,000 residents have taken part in the activity since it became legal in September 2021, according to state officials.  

As of February 2022, there were 27,744 unique users of sports wagering programs in Wyoming. But that number is probably below the actual count, Charles Moore, executive director of the Wyoming Gaming Commission, told the Legislature’s Revenue Committee on Thursday.

“That was in February,” said Moore, who delivered a report on gaming in the state to the committee. “(The number) has moved up quite a bit from that point.”  

Online sports wagering was legalized in the Wyoming Legislature in 2021. The state law that allowed it required the first $300,000 of  revenue raised through a 1% tax on bets go to the Wyoming Department of Health to equip the agency to combat gambling addictions and other associated maladies.  

After that, tax revenues are to go toward the general fund.  

There were only two licensed sports-wager operators cataloged on Moore’s February report, but he told the committee that the number has since grown to four, “soon to be six, next week.”  

“DraftKings” and “BetMGM” were the first licensed operators; “PointsBet” also is licensed but has not yet launched due to supply chain issues, experts told the committee. “FanDuel” was licensed in late December and launched roughly in time for the March Madness college basketball tournament.  

“Barstool Sports” and “Caesar’s” are expected to be licensed by next week. 

The commission hopes to 10 online sports betting operators will eventually be operating in Wyoming.  

Health Department Wins 

Together, gaming sites “DraftKings” and “BetMGM” handled about $76 million worth of Wyomingites’ wager moneys since the activity was legalized. From that, the companies have drawn gross revenues totaling about $2.2 million over the 14 months – $408,257 to BetMGM and $1.8 million to DraftKings.  

The tax of 1% on the companies’ gross revenues to the state yielded $222,363 to the Wyoming Department of Health, and nothing to the state’s main bank account, the general fund, so far.  

‘Tight’ Market 

The tax rate represents a yield of about $4 per user, per year.  

David Carpenter, sports wagering manager for the Gaming Commission, said he expects that yield to grow, ideally to about $15 in taxes per user, per year.  

State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, said the taxable revenue seems “astoundingly low,” though he conceded that the 2022 figures only included the first two months of the year.  

Carpenter said sports wagering is a “tight” or more patron-friendly activity than other gambling games, such as slot machines.  

“The good bettors are mostly between 50% and 55%” win rates, said Carpenter. “The bad bettors, for lack of a better word, are going to be kind of 50% down to 45 %.”  

In other states that have legalized sports betting, sports bettors make up about 10% of the population, whereas in Wyoming, about 3% of the population engages the activity, said Carpenter.  

Moore attributed the lag in part to an error in Wyoming’s gaming laws which was corrected during the recent legislative budget session, but which essentially deleted the Gaming Commission last summer, fall, and winter.  

Horse Racing 

Historic horse racing, or bets via machine on horse races that have already occurred, has amassed about $36.8 million in tax revenues for Wyoming since the practice was formalized under the Gaming Commission in 2020.  

One percent of the total “handle” goes to city and county governments. Another 0.25% each goes to the state’s general account and the state’s savings account, respectively.  

Historic horse racing operators have handled $2 billion of Wyomingites’ money and have drawn a profit of about $161 million.  

Simulcast, or off-track betting, and live horse-racing have contributed  $165,894 to state coffers.  

Skill-Based Amusement Games 

Skill-based amusement games have raked in about $8.7 million since their regulation began in 2020, legislators were told.  

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Wyoming Plans To Expand Sports Betting Despite Low Initial Numbers

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square

Wyoming saw its first month of sports betting close out with lower than expected numbers, but the state still plans to expand the industry.

Wyoming’s first two sports betting enterprises, DraftKings and BetMGM, together took in more than $6 million in wagers during September, the Wyoming Business Report reported. Estimates of yearly wager totals, also called handle, were as high as $450 million initially, a number out of reach if monthly handles continue to look like September’s takings, according to the report.

David Carpenter, project manager for online sports wagering with the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission, said he didn’t see the initial estimates as likely.

“We’re a very small market overall, very small population base and this is a high volume type of thing with pretty low margins all in all,” he told The Center Square. “We’re never going to blow the doors off this thing.”

Carpenter added that it will still be a good revenue stream for the state. He fully expects numbers in the coming months to grow higher than September’s. Preliminary data from October indicates things are looking up.

“Around the seventeenth of the month we had already surpassed that first month’s total wagers,” he said.

October has a lot more going on in the sporting world than September, with football season in full swing along with the NBA and NHL, Carpenter pointed out.

The state plans to add more operators in the coming months, Carpenter said. FanDuel and Penn National Gaming’s Barstool Sportsbook are two competitors with potential to enter the market, according to Wyoming Business Report.

Carpenter said the legislation establishing sports betting in the state set no cap on how many operators Wyoming can approve. The point of this is to create competition, he said.

“In November, we’re likely going to approve our third operator, and then I would expect by the end of the year or early in 2022 we’ll be upwards of five to six operators,” he said. “And then I would expect by the end of 2022 we’ll be closer to 10.”

Carpenter thinks it will be a win-win for the state and operators. He added, however, that The Cowboy State is taking the responsible gaming side of this enterprise seriously.

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Wind River Hotel & Casino Will Attempt To Reopen Again on Friday

in News/Gambling
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If at first you don’t succeed…

The Wind River Hotel & Casino is trying to reopen again.

The establishment is giving it another shot on Friday, Aug. 7, after an earlier attempt to reopen on July 22 was canceled.

In a Facebook post Wednesday morning, the casino said, “Let’s try this again…”

So if you are ready to go dancing with Lady Luck, here are the details on the opening (as provided on its FAQ page):

— It’s just the casino that’s reopening, the hotel will open at a later date.

— Hours will be from 6 a.m. – 2 a.m. Additional deep cleaning will occur during the closed hours.

— There will be no smoking on the casino floor. But smokers are encouraged to go outside if they’d like to smoke. (P.S. smoking is bad for you).

— Table games will be open with social distancing measures in place.

— All food outlets, except the Espresso Bar, will be open at regular hours.

Before the scrapped grand reopening, the casino officials said they felt confident that the safety measures would provide a safe environment for gambling.

“While it is impossible to eliminate all risks during these unprecedented times, we believe — in conjunction with Tribal public health experts — that the safeguards we have put in place will enable these gaming establishments to operate safely and once again serve as a major employer and source of entertainment for our community,” said Brian VanEnkenvoort, CEO of the casino.

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Gambling is booming under the radar, hurting players, state coffers

in News/Business
gambling
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Traditionally, Wyoming takes a conservative stance against the gambling industry, but technological innovations and legal gray areas are moving the state closer to its Wild West roots, a state senator said.

“We really don’t know what’s there, and it varies county to county and town to town,” said Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. “You may have a poker game in one town, and the next town over, it isn’t allowed.”

The overview of gambling in Wyoming is further muddied by “skill games,” which are becoming increasingly popular barroom additions across the state.

“We had so-called skill games or gray games come in on what they saw as a crack in the law regarding skill games,” Driskill said. “At this point, there’s probably between 500 to 1,000 of these machines out there that at some point in the past would’ve been deemed illegal.”

A member of the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, Driskill is drafting a bill that would transform the state’s Pari-Mutuel Commission, which currently oversees horse racing and historic horse race gambling ventures, into the Wyoming Gaming Commission, which would oversee gambling on a broader spectrum.

“The attempt at the commission and the new bill are not attempts to expand gaming in Wyoming, merely to define what’s already there,” Driskill said. “It would also create a model that anyone who is gaming in Wyoming would need a permit or a license, so the state knew where and what gaming is occurring.”

Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, said he’s lobbied for both the alcohol and gaming industries throughout the years, and Wyoming could benefit from an oversight committee.

“There’s nothing keeping bad operators from coming in and setting up shop right now,” Moser explained. “(The Liquor Association) is in a highly regulated industry, and we appreciate oversight, because we serve a product that provides some wonderful benefits when consumed in moderation, much like the gaming industry.”

Many of the skill games currently operating in the state are located in places that serve alcohol, so the operators Moser represents have questions about how to keep it all above board.

“We don’t want our retailers to get in trouble,” he said.

Determining what is legal, however, is complicated, Driskill said.

“Right now, there’s really only two entities that regulate gambling — the county attorneys and the (then-Wyoming) Attorney General,” he said. “Consequently, because of the number of lawsuits in the works by the gaming industry, (the county attorneys) aren’t willing to take it on, because these guys have enough money to take it to court. They don’t want to end up in endless litigation.”

Mired in gray areas and absent the support of county attorneys, gambling is being overlooked by local law enforcement, Driskill added.

“From the testimony we’ve had in the counties, their law enforcement in cities and counties don’t know what’s happening in their boundaries at all,” he said. “It really leaves it to the Wild, Wild West.”

Despite most gambling being illegal throughout the state, games are taking place on a regular basis. But, without oversight, the players bear all the risk.

“The machines that are out there, you don’t know what they’re set at, 1 percent (payout) or 80 percent,” Driskill said. “You really don’t have anywhere to go if someone cheated you in a poker game or to report a bad machine.”

A gaming commission could alleviate many of these problems, but it’s not a new idea.

“Gaming commissions have been proposed in some form for the last decade,” Moser explained. “We’re the only state that doesn’t license bingo or pull tabs, and the skill games are falling into the same area.”

Skill games are typically defined as games in which interaction with the player affects the result, he said.

“They consider video poker as a game of chance,” Moser said. “Games of skill are legal and games of chance are not for the most part.”

Responding to an inquiry from Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigan requesting a formal opinion regarding some machines manufactured by Banilla Games, Attorney General Peter Michael listed ten skill games his office deemed gambling. Those games include:

  • Bathtime Bucks
  • Fruity Sevens 
  • Searing Sevens 
  • Snake Eyes
  • Wheel Deal
  • Spooky’s Loot
  • Mega Money Reel 
  • Lucky Striker 
  • Major Cash
  • Pedro’s Hot Tamales

Moser explained Michael’s formal opinion determined these games were won by chance, rather than the player’s skill.

Despite the list, Driskill said numerous other machines are still in operation.

“These machines are nearly doubling every year,” he said. “The initial numbers right now indicate that the creation of the commission and authority to require licensing would raise $12 million to $15 million for the state.” 

With or without oversight, Driskill said gambling is growing in the Cowboy State.

“The biggest takeaway is whether you’re pro-gaming or against, you’re going to have major expansion in gaming if you don’t do anything with it,” he said.

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