Gaming reg fix weighed during special session, but vote failed

RIVERTON — An attempt to tighten Wyoming’s loosened gambling regulations during the special legislative session failed last week when the House opted not to introduce a corrective bill. 

Senate File 1019 and its counterpart, House Bill 1019, sought to correct what their language called a “scrivener’s error,” or unintentional drafting mistake dating back to the 2021 session –– when legislators tried to repeal a sunset date for gambling regulation but instead, by an apparent omission that State Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, called an error –– repealed the entire regulatory gaming commission. 

The repeal caused the state to revert to its less restrictive pari-mutuel commission of earlier years. Ellis pleaded with the Senate on Oct. 27 –– the second day of the special session –– to correct the error. 

“I think this is urgent,” she said. “It isn’t controversial. It’s owning up to a mistake.” 

Ellis said it gave her no joy to explain the repeal to her colleagues, because she, the Legislative Service Office, the governor’s office and the Wyoming Attorney General’s office all had missed it. 

In 2020, legislators codified a bill creating a nine-person gaming commission tasked with rule-making, researching, and permitting of skill-based amusement ventures in the state. The gaming commission was to include one peace officer for enforcement purposes, and one member of either the Eastern Shoshone or Northern Arapaho Tribe with at least five years of regulatory gaming experience. 

“The two commission members added no longer have voting rights on the commission,” because of the 2021 error, Ellis noted. 

The law also had listed misdemeanor penalties for failures to comply with permitting and other game-purveying misconduct. 

In January 2021, the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee created a new law, Senate File 56, that was intended as a further clarifier of the gaming commission. 

But in its section six, near the end of the bill, the new law repealed the state’s skill-based gaming regulation altogether. 

Ellis told her chamber that the 2021 act had been intended only to repeal the sunset date of June 2021, because gaming operators wanted to function in Wyoming permanently. Instead, Senate File 56 repealed not just the first section of the 2020 gambling model, but the entire regulatory law, and with it, the authoritative gaming commission. 

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, also argued for Ellis’s correction during the special session. 

“We had an error in the bill that potentially, and probably, left an entire area about gambling unregulated in Wyoming,” said Case. “We’d created a gambling commission; they repealed all that language. We ended up back with a pari-mutuel commission… not capable of handling the type of games” functioning already throughout the state. 

Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Jordan Dresser had asked Ellis and Case, along with the legislative Tribal Relations Committee which met in October, to fix the error. Case told Dresser at the time that he would try to do so at the special session. 

The Northern Arapaho Tribe is the only tribe in the nation running Class III federal gaming without a state compact. 

Ellis’ correction cleared the Wyoming Senate but failed to be introduced in the House of Representatives on Nov. 3. Multiple legislators had spoken against it because it did not address the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandate executive order, for which the session was called. Fremont County state senators were split: Case voted in favor, State Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, voted for it on Oct. 27 but against it on Oct. 29.