By Michael Illiano
The Sheridan Press
Via Wyoming News Exchange
SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Committee on Travel, Recreation and Cultural Resources voted to move forward with a bill that would dedicate more state resources toward gambling regulation.
The bill would expand Wyoming’s Pari-Mutuel Commission — which regulates horse racing — into a gaming commission that would oversee all legalized gambling activities in the state.
The same committee voted against supporting similar legislation in June, which concerned state law enforcement officials. Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson was among the members of law enforcement who testified before the committee in support of the creation of a gaming commission, explaining that investigating gambling activities often requires resources and expertise that local agencies, like Sheridan County, don’t possess.
After prompting from the Legislature’s management council, the travel committee created a task force to further explore state gaming regulation.
Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission Executive Director Charles Moore spoke in support of the bill during the committee’s Oct. 3 meeting, framing it as a necessary step in monitoring an evolving industry.
“Due to the complexity of gaming today, constant changes, self-regulation or regulation at a local level is a disservice to the wagering public,” Moore said. “One fact remains: Oversight is needed in Wyoming and the potential for self-regulation is fraud.”
The committee was careful to ensure the legislation does not expand legalized gambling in the state, however. According to the bill, the gaming commission would be responsible for monitoring legalized gambling activities in counties that opt in to the commission’s jurisdiction.
In other words, counties could vote on whether to adopt the gaming commission’s regulations and thereby be subject to the body’s oversight.
Some members within the gaming industry expressed concerns about the legislation, however.
Katherine Wilkinson — a lobbyist for Wyoming Skills LLC, which represents businesses that operate gaming equipment — told the committee the companies she represents are concerned the regulations created by the commission would be unfair.
“We are OK if the committee does decide to that they want to turn the Pari-Mutuel Commission into a gaming commission if there is a neutral commission,” Wilkinson said. “…As written currently, it would retain all of the current employees of the Pari-Mutuel Commission.”
Wilkinson characterized the Pari-Mutuel Commission taking on oversight of gambling machines as a “competing industry” creating regulations for the machines.
The legislation would allow funding for the hiring of additional staff to the commission to assist with its expanded responsibilities.
Last week’s meeting was the travel committees’ final interim meeting, which means any further changes to the bill will have to be discussed when the state Legislature convenes in February.