New Wyoming AG Lobbied on Electronic Skill Gaming

Wyoming Electronic Skill Gaming - House Bill 284

37th Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael banned electronic skill games, but business owners hope 38th Wyoming AG Bridget Hill takes a different stance.

Bridget Hill is the new Wyoming Attorney General and a law firm plans to lobby her about electronic gaming regulation. A law firm representing Wyoming Skills, LLC, the group of vendors who own and operate gaming equipment, plans a meeting with new AG to review electronic skills games and whether or not they should be considered legal.

“We’re hoping to talk to the attorney general and see where we stand,” said Gay Woohouse, an attorney with Woodhouse, Roden and Nethercott.

Hill’s predecessor, Peter Michael, declared that electronic skill games would be considered illegal at the close of 2018. Peter Michael wrote at the time, “At the request of law enforcement officials, I was asked to evaluate whether the electronic games manufactured by Banilla Games are illegal under Wyoming law.”

Gambling in Wyoming is illegal, and Michael supported that and believed that the machines encouraged gambling like activity.

Peter Michael’s Memo on E-Gaming

The departing Wyoming AG added, “These machines are illegal gambling devices under Wyoming law. Those who play them are engaged in gambling, which is a crime in Wyoming, and those who provide the games are engaged in professional gambling, which is also a crime in Wyoming.”

“Because gambling in Wyoming is a crime, not a civil violation, local law enforcement officials and prosecutors will need to determine the timing of the appropriate next steps if their communities have these machines.”

Proponents of electronic gaming did not give up, because they knew Michael would be replaced in the coming months. While state laws are set by the legislature, an attorney general often has a great deal of leeway in interpreting the law and crafting policies.

Woodhouse, Roden and Nethercott

Quickly after Peter Michael’s December decision. Woodhouse, Roden and Nethercott prepared to fight back. The firm took legal action on behalf of the gaming equipment company.

The letter to the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office stated, “We must inform you that we respectfully disagree with Mr. Michael’s analysis and opinion for several reasons and will immediately file an action in Court to obtain a final determination regarding this matter.”

The court hearing was originally scheduled for March, but with Bridget Hill in place the hearing was rescheduled for April 24 to allow time to reach out to AG Hill regarding the case.

Lawyers for Wyoming Skills LLC mentioned that Michael’s statements were merely opinions when it comes to what holds up legally. According to the lawsuit, AG’s statements held no legal binding and should not have any force on effect of law.

The suit stated, “The attorney general’s opinion is simply that. It doesn’t have any real authority.”

Wyoming Electronic Skill Games

Until a clear verdict is made on the stance of legality for Wyoming electronic skills games, some business owners are playing it safe. Jim Kanelos, owner of “The Office”, a bar and grill located on South Ash Street, shut off both of their gaming machines back in December. Though they hope to be able to get them up and running again soon.

Kanelos, among several other owners, hoped that House Bill 284 would pass. Unfortunately for them the Bill failed during its final legislative session in February. HB 284 would have provided regulation for the electronic skill games by the lottery corporation. Rep. Tom Walters drafted the bill, though he said he had the draft legislatuion in the works long before Michael made his statement in December.

Jim Kanelos said HB 284’s failure to pass was a blow to many local business owners. He said, “A lot of people are disappointed that it didn’t pass. I hope to see that they introduce the legislation again and I hope that it is successful next time.”

Tom Walters’ House Bill 284

Rep. Walters said he wanted to provide a percent of the earnings released to the counties, cities or towns, which could be beneficial for the growth of certain areas. The veteran Wyoming senator said, “The purpose was to regulate them and make sure that they were fair and accurate.”

Rep. Walter agrees with the former attorney general that regulation is needed,but he thinks that trying to ban them all together is not the way to go. Bans push activity underground, but don’t stamp them out. The bill’s sponsor said, “Someone will always find a way to push those limits.”

Regulations provides consumer protections, while giving the state and local governments extra tax revenue.

Other Side of the Argument

While there are plenty who see the benefit of the gaming machines, there are those who oppose them entirely. Rep. Bunky Loucks was one of those who voted against the bill.

Loucks said he has received many calls and emails from people who believed that racing and lotteries there makes for more than enough gambling opportunities within the state. Rep. Loucks also said that he did not like the idea of placing the control of the gaming machines in the hands of the lottery corporation.

Rep. Loucks said, “If we’re going to go in that direction [of allowing more gambling] then there needs to be a state gaming commission.”

Wyoming Gambling Laws

Under the current Wyoming law, gambling is illegal and is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of six months imprisonment and or a fine of no more than $750. Professional gambling is considered a felony and is punishable by imprisonment of a maximum of three years and or a fine of no more than $3,000.

Tribal gaming operations, however, are legal in the state of Wyoming. Federal gambling laws govern operations conducted on the Wind River Indian Reservation by the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho tribes. State regulators oversee the casinos, but only through a gaming compact signed between the tribe and the state. Wyoming collects taxes, but only enough to offset the costs of regulation.

The same applies to the “historic horse racing” terminals at certain pari-mutuel off-track betting locations within the state. These terminals are legalized and conducted under separate Wyoming laws.