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Governor appoints Northern Arapaho tribal citizen to state gaming commission

Governor appoints Northern Arapaho tribal citizen to state gaming commission

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Gambling

A patron plays the slot machines at the Shoshone Rose Casino and Hotel in Oct. 2016 on the Wind River Reservation. Jenni Wildcat, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, has been appointed to the Wyoming Gaming Commission, formerly known as the Pari-Mutuel Commission.

A reworked body tasked with overseeing gambling regulation in Wyoming has a new member after Gov. Mark Gordon appointed a tribal citizen with years of experience in the industry to the group.

Gordon appointed Jenni Wildcat, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, to the Wyoming Gaming Commission, formerly known as the Pari-Mutuel Commission, the Northern Arapaho Tribe said Thursday.

Wildcat has more than 15 years of experience in tribal gaming and regulation, most recently ensuring compliance with federal and tribal gaming laws and serving as a liaison with the National Indian Gaming Commission and other agencies for the Northern Arapaho Gaming Agency. She has also had worked for the Eastern Shoshone Gaming Agency and Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission.

“(Wildcat’s) experience, background and integrity will make her a tremendous addition to the Wyoming Gaming Commission,” Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter said in a news release. “She has a keen understanding of gaming issues and will be a strong voice on the Commission for the wagering public.”

The Gaming Commission previously oversaw horse racing in the state but had its role expanded to include regulating video gambling, which had been expanding unregulated and untaxed in Wyoming — mostly in bars — after an opinion by then-Attorney General Peter Michael in 2018 opened the door to the games.

Until this year’s legislation, the machines existed in a gray area — not technically legal, but law enforcement didn’t have any guidelines on enforcement.

Others have called for more expansion to include Las Vegas-style slot machines and sports betting. In the meantime, the commission — which was created after more than two years of debate — is meant to stop the spread of unregulated gambling in Wyoming and generate revenue for the state.

Under the legislation signed by Gordon, the commission would grow from seven members to nine, with one being an Eastern Shoshone or Northern Arapaho tribal citizen with at least five years of experience in the gaming industry. It also called for another member to be a certified peace officer.

Operators must now also pay a 20 percent tax on net proceeds from the games and have them approved by the commission, which also has the authority to enforce regulations.

Initially worried about the expansion of gambling in Wyoming and the effect it could have on tribal gaming revenues, the Northern Arapaho Tribe resisted efforts to allow the expansion of video gambling. But leaders eventually said they would support the creation of a commission to regulate the machines if they had a seat at the table.

At a state Legislature Travel, Recreation, Wildlife & Cultural Resources Committee meeting earlier this year, Business Council member Kim Harjo said the creation of a gaming commission could be a “slippery slope,” leading to more widespread gambling across Wyoming.

“The tribe strongly supports state regulation of gaming, but we do not believe legalizing expanded gaming to every corner of the state is the solution,” she said at the time.

The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes operate gambling businesses on the Wind River Reservation that are critical sources of revenue and jobs for tribal citizens.

In a Friday interview, Spoonhunter said having the input of a tribal gaming expert like Wildcat on the commission will benefit the commission since the Wyoming tribes have been operating gaming enterprises, which are regulated at the federal level, for years.

“In Indian gaming, we are very highly regulated, so Wyoming being fairly new to gaming, and the Northern Arapaho being the experts at gaming, we felt that if we partnered with the state of Wyoming we could help them … to make sure that Wyoming is able to regulate gaming as it should be,” he said. “Jenni Wildcat fit that bill, so we were very happy that the governor appointed her.”

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Chris Aadland covers the Wind River Reservation and tribal affairs for the Star-Tribune as a Report for America corps member. A Minnesota native, he spent the last two years reporting for the Wisconsin State Journal before moving to Wyoming in June 2019.

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