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Wyoming State Liquor Association

Wyoming Movie Theaters Preparing To Start Serving Alcohol

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

With the owners of one of the Casper movie theaters announcing their intent to seek a liquor license, Wyoming could soon have three cities with movie theaters that also serve alcohol.

This week, the owners of Studio City Mesa told the Casper City Council that they were seeking a restaurant liquor license to serve alcohol at the theater’s concession stands, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

Wyoming State Liquor Association Executive Director Mike Moser told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that movie theaters across the nation have started to sell alcohol, so Wyoming is just getting in on the trend.

“Since COVID, people realized they can watch movies at home,” Moser said. “But, when you do that, you can’t go out and get a bunch of friends together and have a burger and a beer before seeing a movie. That’s part of the fun. Considering the quality of some of the movies I’ve seen in the last year, alcohol would really have helped.”

The owner of the Capitol 12 movie theater in Cheyenne, Rob Berger, recently received the a restaurant liquor license for his venue, meaning it will soon begin to serve alcohol, although a firm timeline has not yet been set.

The owners of a Jackson movie theater are also interested in pursuing a liquor license, but Moser said they are looking to secure a retail license, since they do not serve enough food to go under the “restaurant” umbrella, unlike Cheyenne or Casper.

According to the Star-Tribune, the proposed expanded menu for the Casper theater’s concessions includes chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, chicken tenders, french fries, pizza and appetizers. The Cheyenne theater serves much of this same menu already.

The Casper theater’s application must be reviewed by the state Liquor Division and local agencies will ensure the business is compliant with city codes and ordinances before the license is approved.

Moser does not feel that the alcohol sales will necessarily bring in much, if any, extra money for the theaters, but rather that the owners are doing this because it enhances the filmgoing experience.

The number of residents in a community will determine if movie theaters in cities such as Laramie, Gillette or Sheridan will begin to sell alcohol, he said.

“We’re not talking about a lot of volume [of alcohol] here, since movie theaters have been struggling for a while,” Moser said. “You’re not going to be sitting around for three or four hours, drinking. But you can have a drink and a burger and see a movie.”

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

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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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