CASPER, Wyo. — Lawmakers sponsoring legislation to bring a lottery to Wyoming have come and gone the past 24 years, but the effort reached a historical milestone Monday when the state House narrowly advanced House Bill 77 on third reading.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, said he's either supported or submitted pro-lottery legislation each of the past six years. The fight has been ongoing since 1989 and always failed by a small margin, he said.
On Monday, HB77 passed by a 31-28 vote.
The Cheyenne Republican was smiling after the bill passed, but said he will only feel like a winner once the legislation has Gov. Matt Mead's signature.
“It still has to go through the Senate,” he cautioned.
Proponents say Wyoming residents are spending too much money buying lottery tickets in surrounding states.
Opponents speak of the moral consequences.
“I was surprised that it went through,” said Rep. Gerald Gay, R-Casper. “We usually have someone who stands up and reminds everyone that we have the constitutional clause to uphold the morality of the state. And that’s what has always killed it in the past.”
Gay said it was a “terribly regressive tax.” He suspects that people looking for a pot of gold may wind up in trouble. Low-income people are likely to play the lottery in hopes of hitting it big and may waste their expendable income in the process.
Zwonitzer doesn’t consider the lottery gambling.
“I look at gambling as people who consider it instant gratification,” he said. “Lottery to me is not instant gratification. You buy your ticket, and you usually go home. That’s why we don’t have scratch-off tickets and things of that type. It’s entertainment.”
As of now, the bill allows for a state or multi-state lottery, such as Powerball. Scratch-off tickets and electronic lotteries would be prohibited. Lottery retailers would only accept cash.
At least 45 percent of the proceeds derived from lottery sales would be prize money. Four times a year, the remaining money from the fund would be transferred to the state’s General Fund.
That could change.
“I am guessing we’ll see this bill come back [to the House],” Zwonitzer said. “Some people are already asking to see if money can go to other places.”
The bill would allocate revenues toward cities', towns' and counties' general funds, according to the legislation.
The Legislative Service Office estimated the lottery would bring in an extra $30 million per year to the General Fund. That money would then be distributed to municipalities. The National Conference of State Legislators estimated excess revenues would be in the ballpark of $5 million to $9 million after the lottery was fully implemented. Zwonitzer expects three years to pass before the lottery is up and running.
HB77 would create the Wyoming Lottery Corporation. The quasi state corporation would consist of a nine-member board appointed by the governor, each serving four-year terms. Four of the initial board members would be limited to two-year terms. The remaining five would fulfill full terms.
Board members would only be paid for each day they perform their official duties and with a per diem salary equivalent to sate lawmakers. The members would elect a chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, secretary and chief executive officer. The board would choose the retailers and vendors that would supply the state with the necessary machines and materials. Board members would also be in charge of managing the corporation’s budget and adopting regulations and policies set forth by the CEO.
The board would also be allowed to acquire property and conduct market research. It could administer joint operations with other states.
Finally, the corporation would be the chief retailer of lottery tickets and would decide the frequency of drawings and the size of payouts to winners.
The bill says places of sale would receive at least 6 percent of revenues.