CHEYENNE — Because of differing cultures, Wyoming’s cities, towns and counties are in the best position to regulate the games of bingo and pull tabs.
That was the main argument in the debate over which entity should regulate the games. The alternative was to put the game regulatory authority under the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission.
But that move would grow state government, which is an unpopular approach in light of the state’s fiscal problem.
Local control prevailed last week as the Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Travel, Recreation and Wildlife voted for a bill to be introduced during the short legislative session in February.
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, who proposed the bill, said that currently the games operate unfettered with no oversight whatsoever.
Thus, if a player or other resident suspects the barkeep, for example, is siphoning money from the pull tabs pot he or she has no place where a complaint can be lodged.
If the committee bill passes and a city or county decides to regulate the games, the people can take their complaint to the local police or the sheriff’s office.
The bill also creates some income for the cities and counties that regulate the games.
The draft bill allows the locals to set reasonable fees of up to one percent of the net profits.
“I’m not trying to get rid of the pull-tabs,” Burns said in an interview last week. “The bill is intended to be revenue neutral. I want local officials to know who’s running the games.”
Letting the locals decide if they want to regulate the games is the right step given the different values and cultures in the state.
Campbell County and the City of Gillette, Burns noted, do not have the same culture as predominantly Mormon communities like Lovell and Cokeville or Alpine, which are more likely to oppose gambling.
However, these communities have no control whatsoever over the games now. If they don’t want to regulate the games, they don’t have to do so.
For many charitable organizations the income from the games is critical to their operations.
In Sheridan, Burns said, he knows of three charitable organizations that would close within six months without the income from bingo and pull tabs operations.
The current law requires operators of bingo games to contribute 65 percent of the net profits to charitable organizations. For pull tabs the contribution is 50 percent of net profits.
Giving the regulatory task to the locals will avoid expanding an existing state agency or setting up a new one like those in surrounding states.
In Colorado, the Secretary of State’s Office web site has 55 pages of detailed rules on bingo games, including electronic bingo and raffles.
The state of Montana’s list of rules is even longer. Montana’s program is run by the state’s Gambling Control Division. Under Montana law, businesses must have a liquor license before they can conduct some gambling activities like live card games and video gambling machines.
In Wyoming, bingo has to be a live game, Burns noted. Electronic bingo is not legal.
During the committee meeting, Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming Liquor Association, said his organization doesn’t support the bill.
But Moser, who was part of a small task force group appointed to work on the bill, said it would prevent fly-by-night questionable operations from moving into the state.
Rick Kaysen, the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and a former Cheyenne mayor, said his association doesn’t necessarily favor the bill, either.
But Kaysen, who also was a member of the task force on the bill, said it is “workable,” and reflects an issue that has been discussed for the last years in particular.
Until fairly recently Wyoming had a reputation as an anti-gambling state.
Yet bingo games in Wyoming have been less tightly regulated than in most other states.
The state currently allows tribal casinos, a state lottery, horse racing and off-track betting. The Legislature didn’t adopted the lottery until 2013.