GILLETTE — People in the Cowboy State could legally place bets on a sporting event if a proposed bill gets through the Legislature.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibited sports betting in most states. That prompted states to take advantage of the ruling to legalize the industry or at least entertain the idea.
Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, is the main sponsor of House Bill 133 that — if passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Mark Gordon — would legalize online sports gambling in the Cowboy State for people 18 and older.
Online sports betting refers to placing wagers via websites and mobile apps. It differs from offline betting, which is where people physically go somewhere to place a bet, like a casino or racetrack.
The measure would not only bring people out of the illegal online sports wagering market, but it will only allow online betting so there would not be any wagering that involves bookkeepers in Wyoming, Walters said in a phone interview.
"It would not intrude on somebody who doesn't want to participate," he said.
House Bill 133 would allow major sports betting companies to come to Wyoming like FanDuel, but it would regulate the industry so it is fair to the consumer. It also provides a new revenue stream to the state, though how much it would bring in is unknown right now, said bill co-sponsor state Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette.
Tennessee’s online-only sports betting program, for example, has brought in $312.3 million in gross wagers — the difference between the net profit, or the amount players wager minus the amount they win, and costs — in November and December, according to the Associated Press.
“It’s not going to solve all the issues that we’re seeing in the mineral industry, that’s for sure,” Wasserburger said about potential revenues Wyoming could get from the games. “But it’s going to help a little bit.”
Under the proposal, online sports betting would be regulated by the Wyoming Gaming Commission. If the measure passes, the gaming commission would meet to put the rules and regulations in place before July 1. On that date, people could legally start placing online sports bets.
The gaming commission would charge $100,000 for a new online sports wagering operator permit and $50,000 for a renewal application. It would be $10,000 for a new permit for vendors and $5,000 for a renewal. Each permit is valid for five years.
Penalties for those who operate online sports gambling without a valid permit would be $5,000 for a first offense and $10,000 for a second or subsequent offense.
Every month, the sports wagering operator would give 10 percent of its revenues to the commission to be deposited into the state’s general fund.
If legislators want to change where the funding goes, they can add an amendment to the bill, Walters said.
Walters introduced another online sports wagering bill during the 2020 Budget Session, HB 225, that was voted down in the House with 32 legislators voting against it on third reading.
Walters suspects that timing of the bill was an issue because the measure came at the last day of the general file period.
“I think people were just kind of worn out and a little unsure of what it was really doing,” Walters said.
State Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was the co-sponsor of that bill, but turned down a chance to do so again this year because, he said, a majority of his constituents in Campbell, Crook and Weston counties are against gaming.
But the national trend to legalize sports gambling continues to expand and that is why Walters is giving it another shot in Wyoming.
In November’s elections, people in Louisiana, Maryland and South Dakota voted to allow sports betting.
Other state legislatures are considering authorizing some kind of sports gambling.
North Dakota legislators are considering a resolution that would allow residents to decide whether to allow it in their state. If the measure passes then the issue would go on the state’s ballot next year.
States want to protect their residents by regulating the market while at the same time generate some revenue, Walters said.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us in Wyoming and I think we should go ahead and do this,” Wasserburger said. “It just protects the individual better in the state of Wyoming. It gives them some consumer protection. We know it’s happening. We might as well legalize it and move on.”
“It’s going to get here whether we like it or not,” Driskill said.
He added that the state either “puts her hands on it and regulates it” or does nothing and lets the sports gambling industry continue to operate in the state illegally with no restrictions at all.
Driskill believes that the bill, at the bare minimum, “will be given a really good serious look.”