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Tom Walters

Tom Walters: Skill Games Are An Asset For Wyoming

in Tom Walters/Column
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By Rep. Tom Walters
Tom Walters represents House District 38 in western Natrona County

In 2020, it was fortuitous that the legislature acted to consolidate gaming regulation under the Wyoming Gaming Commission. This consolidation under one umbrella included Historic Horse Racing, pull tabs, bingo, and a new addition to the mix: skill games. It also helped Wyoming businesses survive and remain competitive.

Skill games are video based games that showcase a player’s skill. Leaders in the skill games industry reached out to the legislature seeking legislative regulation and state approval. Among the goals of the legislation, were to support changes in the law which would ensure consumer protections and ensure a free market for the emerging skill games industry in Wyoming.

The legislature voted for skill games to have a one-year trial to see if they could be an asset to the state.

Skill games are an asset. Skill games have provided an economic lifeline to Wyoming bars, restaurants, American Legions, VFWs, and other fraternal organizations by providing another much-needed stream of revenue during very challenging times. These revenues have allowed these organizations to pay their bills, keep workers employed, and stay open for business.

Not only did these small businesses endure (if they were lucky) a seven-week shutdown at the beginning of the pandemic but then operating hours were severely cut back (two separate times) where they had to close their doors at the most profitable times of the day.

These are Wyoming families — our neighbors — who risked everything to follow their dreams and own their own business. Skill games have helped to bring patrons into establishments as these games provide additional entertainment.

These are among the reasons I am supportive of Senate File 56 which is before the 2021 legislature this year. This bill eliminates the sunset date for skill games and will allow them to continue to lawfully operate in in the state.

Bar and restaurant owners in my district tell me that these games are critical for their businesses survival. The revenues they generate help pay their mortgage, pay their employees, and keep their doors open.

Please note these entertainment games pay a 20% tax and have generated over $2 million for cities and counties, and the state’s education fund in the last nine months.

I know the owners of many of the vending companies who distribute these games. They too are hard-working Wyoming families who have been in business for decades.

They provide pool tables, jukeboxes, dartboards, ATMs, and skill games to bars and restaurants across the state.

These businesses are integral members of their communities donating time and money to many Wyoming charities. I have been impressed with their support for our communities. This includes giving to First Lady Jennie Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative, helping residents in need, thanking first responders in Casper, and donating to volunteer fire departments in southern Wyoming for their efforts to battle the devastating Mullen Fire.

I am fully supportive of Senate File 56, Wyoming gaming commission-modifications. This legislation will help Wyoming’s small businesses just as they have helped our communities through the taxes they pay, the people they hire and the charities they support.

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CREG: Latest Wyoming Revenue Estimate Shows $48 Million Drop

in Government spending/News/politics
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By Bob Geha

Wyoming legislators will have $48 million less to spend over the next two years than originally believed, according to a report issued Friday.

The state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) submitted a report to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee that showed revenues for the state over the next biennium, running from July of 2020 through June of 2022, will drop below levels predicted in October.

The CREG told JAC members the decline was largely due to drops in natural gas prices.

The JAC is meeting to prepare its budget for the biennium for presentation to the Legislature, which opens its budget session on Feb. 10. After all of the state’s agencies are funded, officials believe lawmakers will only have about $20 million to $25 million to finance other projects.

Although the state has reserve funds it can use to pay some operations, those reserves will not last forever and lawmakers will have to take that into account, said JAC member Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper.

“There’s going to be multiple legislators that have great ideas coming from their neck of the woods and we’ll just have to see how those work out,” he said. “Wyoming is in a good position as we do have some reserves that can be used, but those reserves won’t last forever, so we have to make some hard choices for certain.”

Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, another JAC member, said he believes the Legislature will have to be careful with programs that put an ongoing drain on state coffers.

“Those ongoing expenses of government that we have, we need to be careful where we inflate those and where the needs are, because I really do worry about revenues going into the future,” he said.

As the state adjusts to lower revenues from its energy industry, it might turn more to the tourism and outdoor recreation sectors to make up for declining income, said committee member Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson.

“It really puts the attributes that this state loves and the things that we love about living here and puts it right out front,” he said. “We want to display that to the world. That’s the way we can get people to come, to visit, to spend money, which creates money for the state. It’s a good bet for the state.”

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