Barron: Wyoming’s ”frosty” position on sports betting

Barron: Wyoming’s ”frosty” position on sports betting


CHEYENNE — Colorado voters recently narrowly approved a ballot referendum to legalize sports betting.

It is understandable why the vote was close if you scan the jumbled text of the ballot question. I’m sure it left many Colorado voters totally perplexed.

“Shall state taxes be increased by twenty-nine million dollars annually to fund state water projects and commitments and to pay for the regulation of sports betting through licensed casinos by authorizing a tax on sports betting of ten percent of net sports betting proceeds, and to impose the tax on persons licensed to conduct sports betting?”

The sponsors of the referendum were following the requirement of the state’s TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) law, which is why it reads like nonsense.

At any rate, sports betting is now legal in Colorado and the betting tax is expected to raise $1.5 million the first year, increasing to $10.4 million in fiscal year 2021.

Colorado is one of many states that rushed to legalize sports betting in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in May 2018. The court ruled as unconstitutional a 1992 federal law that prohibited most states from authorizing sports gambling. The exception was the Nevada, which was grandfathered in when the 1992 federal law passed.

Supporters of the lawsuit brought successfully by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pointed to the the robust and lucrative underground world of sports gaming that already exists. Legalizing it would help the state’s revenue and attract tourists. Wyoming is one of only seven states that has no law or bill pending to legalize sports gaming, although plenty goes on under the radar.

Wyoming statutes currently list the types of gambling that are legal. Former Attorney General Peter Michael opined that the new so-called “skill games” are illegal; they are omitted from the statute. A lawsuit that sought a court ruling on the question never went anywhere, so the status of the games remains unclear.

The Legislature will deal once again next year with a bill to set up a state gaming commission to regulate gambling, an issue that has been before the lawmakers for several years without success. The new version does not include regulation of bingo or pull tabs, which may give it a better chance of passage. Instead, the Legislature’s Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee broadened the language to cover gaming and gaming operations to be determined by the commission.

“Wyoming is one of the few states in the U.S. that seems to have no interest whatsoever in embracing state-regulated sports betting entertainment,” according to the web page “To be honest, there is not much going on in this state regarding sports,” the writer adds, unkindly.

Nevertheless, Wyoming is one of the states that has no law against offshore betting.

“This omission means there is at least one avenue available for residents who don’t want to travel to another state to bet on sports.

“It is impossible to say when, or even if, the Equality State will respond to the resounding drumbeat that is sweeping across the country to expand the sports gambling market. With absolutely no legislation being introduced that is even remotely relevant to sports betting or any form of gambling, we anticipate that their frosty position concerning state-based sportsbooks won’t be thawing out for some time,” the analysis concluded.

The writer went on to suggest Wyoming may thaw out when the lawmakers recognize that the state needs more money to balance the budget. The website also notes that Wyoming has not expressly legalized or prohibited mobile sports betting apps. These apps could be the most popular means in future sports gaming. You could make a bet with your watch.

This is another omission that apparently makes an activity of gaming legal. Using the same rationale, “skill games” would be legal in Wyoming, too. The Legislature needs to get a handle on these new games and gaming methods. Setting up a gaming commission is a start.

Joan Barron is a former longtime capitol bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or


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