Perhaps Wyoming is the state that comes out of nowhere to legalize online casino in 2024.
An iGaming bill unexpectedly dropped in Wyoming late Tuesday night.
Rep. Robert Davis filed HB 120 to authorize and regulate iGaming in the Cowboy State.
Davis told PlayUSA he began working with the Wyoming Gaming Commission on online casino legislation after attending the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference in Denver last summer.
“I see legalizing iGaming as a way of protecting the Wyoming public from what is currently going on, which is illegal gaming. That is currently occurring across the state of Wyoming, so we need to bring it in, regulate it and protect the public from the offshore platforms. Protecting the public is my No. 1 priority.”
Wyoming becomes the sixth state with active online casino legislation this year, according to PlayUSA’s bill tracker.
With it being a budget year, Wyoming also has a very short legislative session.
A dark horse iGaming candidate emerges
Wyoming wasn’t on PlayUSA’s radar when projecting states that would consider online casino legislation in 2024.
Last year, another small state, Rhode Island, suddenly introduced online casino legislation and became the only state to legalize iGaming on the year.
However, Wyoming has a more difficult path to replicate Rhode Island’s run. Rhode Island only has one gaming entity, Bally’s, that was pushing for online casino. Wyoming has four Indian casinos and four sports betting apps.
“When we developed online sports betting in Wyoming, that set a foundation in order to enable iGaming,” Davis said. “We have the geofencing in place that protects our neighbors and the sovereign nations and it has worked quite well. With the foundation in place, iGaming should fit right in there.”
Details of Wyoming online casino bill
The Wyoming online casino bill defines an interactive game as an internet-based version of poker, blackjack or any other card, slot or gambling game typically offered at a casino.
Other details of HB 120 include:
- Appoints the Wyoming Gaming Commission as regulator.
- The commission shall issue no fewer than five interactive gaming operator permits. There is no limit placed on the number of online casino apps.
- Sets the minimum age at 18 to participate in online casino play.
- An initial fee of $100,000 for an interactive gaming operator permit renewable every five years for $50,000.
- For a interactive gaming vendor permit, an initial fee of $10,000 renewable every five years for $5,000.
- Mentions live dealers but does not require studios to be located in Wyoming.
- Permits entering multistate agreements for interactive gaming, which would be key to make poker viable. With a population of about 580,000, Wyoming is the least populated state in the US.
- Taxes online casino revenue at 10%.
- Puts aside $300,000 annually to the department of health to fund county health programs to prevent and treat problem gambling. Remaining revenue goes to the general fund.
Language similar to Wyoming sports betting law
Wyoming legalized online sports betting in 2021. Much of Davis’ online casino language seems to come from the sports betting law.
This includes the fees on the five-year license, 10% tax rate and $300,000 for problem gambling treatment. The minimum age of 18 also is consistent with Wyoming sports betting and gambling at tribal casinos.
It was a surprise when Wyoming legalized sports betting. Gov. Mark Gordon, who signed the sports betting bill, is still in office.
Four companies operate online sportsbooks in Wyoming:
Fanatics and Barstool Sports also obtained online sports betting permits.
Online sports betting permit holders will have an easier time getting online casino licenses. Language in the iGaming bill specifies that the commission shall offer an abbreviated application for online sports wagering license holders and may consider them fully qualified to hold an interactive gaming operator permit without additional investigation.
“The current books in Wyoming have been vetted so it should be relatively easy to put this on the same platform as what sports betting is on,” Davis said. “As far as opening that up for others, that’s entirely up to the gaming commission and how they do their rules.”
Unclear where tribes fall on iGaming
Wyoming has two federally recognized Indian tribes that have compacts with the state: the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe of the Wind River Reservation. They each operate two tribal casinos.
The tribes don’t offer online sports betting. The Northern Arapaho Tribe offers land-based sports betting under its compact.
Davis said he has not had any discussions with the tribes to find out where they stand on iGaming. He’s not sure if Wyoming tribes would be interested in a commercial arrangement to offer online casino in the state the way tribes do with Michigan.
“That would be up to the tribes here in the state of Wyoming,” Davis said. “Right now my thought on this matter is that anything in tribal nations would be geofenced out. They already have casinos there, so we don’t want to infringe upon them.”
Wyoming also has three racetracks and 12 off-track betting parlors with historical horse racing.
Path forward for Wyoming online casino bill
During even years, Wyoming holds budget sessions that typically last just 20 legislative days.
A limited number of bills get included in the budget. To even get the green light to move forward to committee for consideration, bills need approval from two-thirds of members.
Wyoming’s legislative session begins Monday, Feb. 12. Davis expects the House to determine whether it will consider online casino legislation this year by the middle of the second week. That is approximately Feb. 21.
Revenue generators such as online casino can have a place in state budgets, but Davis said the state isn’t looking at iGaming as a big revenue generator.
“It has the potential to raise revenue and the state is always looking for revenue increasers. But we won’t know of its revenue potential until we figure out how much illegal iGaming is going on.”
When Wyoming passed sports betting, lawmakers first introduced the bill in 2020’s short budget session and passed legislation in 2021. But Davis thinks there is a chance this year for Wyoming to pass his online casino bill this year. Wyoming’s legislative session runs until March 8.
“A lot will depend on the temperature of other legislators,” Davis said. “I’ve discussed it with the Speaker and talked to several members, and they’re interested. The current liaison to the gaming commission is a co-sponsor on it. I just have to see if it’s got enough backing.”