Wyoming Lawmakers Shoot Down Opt-Out Bill, Skill-Game Regulations Coming In 2023

November 29, 2022
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Wyoming lawmakers have approved several pieces of draft legislation that would tighten regulations on skill-based game companies while defeating a proposed measure to allow cities and counties to opt-out of allowing the devices in local bars, restaurants and fraternal organizations.

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Wyoming lawmakers have approved several pieces of draft legislation that would tighten regulations on skill-based game companies while defeating a proposed measure to allow cities and counties to opt-out of allowing the devices in local bars, restaurants and fraternal organizations.

The legislative activity comes as the Wyoming Gaming Commission (WGC) prepares to consider final adoption of skill-based amusement game rules that are currently out for public comment.

Charlie Moore, the commission’s director, said the rules will be out of the public comment period on December 8.

“Depending on the comments we receive, and the indication we are getting at this point, the industry is good with these rules, my timeline, which depends on a lot of little things, but I would like to say we will have final adoption from the commission prior to Christmas,” Moore said.

After commission approval, the rules will be submitted to the Legislative Service Office (LSO) then forwarded to attorney general Bridget Hill and Governor Mark Gordon for their consideration. Moore expects the rules to be approved in March.

“At that point it gives us clear guidance; the vendors, the operators, everyone clear guidance to move forward,” Moore told members of the Joint Revenue Committee during their final meeting this year on Wednesday (November 23) to consider bill drafts for the 2023 legislative session.

The Wyoming legislature is scheduled to convene on January 10, 2023, and is limited to 40 legislative days. Any bill draft approved by a committee will need to be updated and numbered before introduction.

During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill authorizing skill-based amusement games in Wyoming and requiring the gaming commission to promulgate rules to oversee the industry.

The legislation specifically removed a sunset date on skill games in 2020 that, in effect, allowed for a test period to see how these games operated.

The proposed rules, which are laid out in eight chapters, are meant to oversee arcade games and electronic skill-based games like those that are unregulated and found in convenience stores and taverns in Pennsylvania, Virginia and other states.

The commission proposes to charge vendors $2,500 annually for a license, while a business or individual granted a license will pay an annual $250 fee. If an operator owns a skill-based game, they will be required to be permitted as an operator and licensed as a vendor.

Revenues from the machines will be taxed at 20 percent and machines are limited to four in each establishment. The rules also require the games to be in an area restricted to those 21 years and older.

Applicants for a vendor license will also be required to submit a responsible gambling plan to the commission. The plan needs to include, at a minimum, the applicant’s plan for creating a distributing educational material on problem gambling, as well as details of training for its employees.

The commission also proposes to prohibit skill-based game advertising “that it determines to be deceptive to the public,” and require that every form of advertising contain a statement that “minors are not allowed to play skill based amusement games as approved by the commission.”

Currently, there are 291 locations in Wyoming that offer skill games under the Cowboy Skill brand, which are manufactured and distributed by Pace-O-Matic, and Banilla Games of Greenville, North Carolina. Skill games are limited to a maximum bet of $3 and a maximum win of $3,000.

“At the end of the day, ultimately skill games are designed to be a game of entertainment and amusement that still allows somebody who is exercising skill to win every time,” said Jonathan Downey of Cowboy Skill in Cheyenne.

“Having that high standard there is the foundation on which the industry came into Wyoming and asked for regulation.”

Last week, Downey told lawmakers that Cowboy Skill was opposed to the bill allowing cities and counties to opt-out of a legal and regulated skill-based games market.

“The biggest concern right now is if you go for an opt-out at a local government level that can change with time just as we see elections come and go,” Downey said.

“We see these cycles of the pendulum swing back and forth and that creates lot of uncertainty for small Wyoming businesses. Skill games have served as a source of revenue, supplemental income.”

The bill draft, numbered 23LSO-0065, would have allowed cities and counties to submit to the voters a ballot question of whether to opt-out of allowing skill-based games. If voters approved an opt-out measure, those machines in existence would be allowed to operate for five years.

After an hour of testimony and debate, committee members declined to make a motion for a vote on the proposal, effectively killing the measure.

Last month, members of the Joint Appropriations Committee approved a bill draft (23LSO-0217) requiring all people who have access to skill-based equipment to be licensed by the gaming commission, a process that includes an FBI background check.

Currently, state law only requires that vendors and operators of gaming equipment complete background checks for licensure. The employee licensees will cost $50 per year.

Moore said that regulators supported licensing all employees of vendors, saying it will elevate the integrity of gaming in the state. The committee also approved an amendment to the bill draft, requiring gaming manufacturers to pay a $10,000 initial license fee, followed by a $5,000 annual renewal.

Further draft legislation clarifying the state’s 2021 mobile sports-betting law was also passed, while lawmakers tabled a draft relating to pari-mutuel wagering. Both proposals were sponsored by the Joint Appropriations Committee.

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