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(LETTER) County’s effort on live horse racing, off-track betting spur legislative discussions to fix

"Considering the revenue from two full seasons of live horse racing (32 races) and having three OTB operators in the county, I believe the endeavor was worth the effort by the commissioners," Colleen Faber writes.


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Dear Gillette,

We often hear about the various efforts to diversify the economy in Campbell County. This is often thought of in terms of industry, businesses, entrepreneurs and the like. If you were to say live horse racing, many would question if that is of any significance to an economy.

In 1999 the University of Wyoming conducted a study of the economic contributions of Wyoming Downs Racetrack and Off Track Betting to Wyoming. The study estimated that Wyoming Downs brought $6.6
million into the Wyoming economy, comprised of expenditures in the Evanston area of nonresident spectators, horse training expenditures, trip expenditures by nonresident horse owners and race admission and track fees. That’s just one season of live horse racing. (https://wyocre.uwagec.org/Publications/WYDOWNSREPORT.pdf )

Fast forward to 2013 and the introduction of House Bill 25. The bill brief noted that Wyoming’s horse racing industry and related agribusiness was fighting a losing battle against casinos, state lotteries and online gaming. Live horse racing had gone from a total of 19 races in the state in 2005 to four in 2012, with less than 25 Wyoming bred horses. This bill allowed utilization of new technology for Off Track Betting parlors to offer games of skill based on historical horse races: The start of slot machine type gaming in OTBs. All OTB locations were required to be approved by the county commissioners.

Campbell County commissioners saw their first request for an OTB location in 2015 with the promise of the return of live horse racing at Cam-Plex’s Energy Downs. The interest was more for the return of live horse racing than the OTBs.

From 2015 through 2019 a total of 26 live horse races were held at Energy Downs and two additional OTBs were opened. In 2020, no live horse racing was held at Energy Downs and a new operator was hoping to start up live racing with 16 live horse races planned. The statute governing live horse racing and the “100 mile rule” was not clear, and it was determined there was not any significant preference to the track operator for OTB operations within the 100 miles of the track. The county commission chose to pass a resolution with conditions for OTB permits requiring them to conduct live horse racing in the county as was the intent of the statute. Without this resolution, there was no incentive for any entity to hold live horse racing in the county, which was shown by the University of Wyoming to generate significant revenue for the local economy.

The Wyoming Gaming Commission sent letters to the operators who were not conducting live horse racing in the county that 30 days from the passage of the resolution (2077) they would need to enter into a waiver agreement with the live race operator (something both had already done with each other) or close. The businesses objected and immediately sued the county and requested an injunction from being closed. The judge did not side with the businesses at that time and the resolution terms remained for three months until it was determined they could open until a decision was made by the courts.

With the ruling against the county, the businesses remained open but followed with another suit claiming they had not been given due process because the commissioner’s director had not attached the resolution to the agenda until a day before the meeting. However the resolution did not go into effect for 30 days following its passage.

Ultimately this case was settled by the county’s insurer. The cost to the county for legal representation and the settlement amount was $25,000. Considering the revenue from two full seasons of live horse racing (32 races) and having three OTB operators in the county, I believe the endeavor was worth the effort by the commissioners.

The issues the county faced during this process has highlighted the deficiencies in statute surrounding live horse racing and OTBs and has spurred legislative discussions on how to remedy.

Colleen Faber
Gillette, Wyoming