CHEYENNE — The Wyoming Supreme Court says video "instant racing" machines that allow betting on past horse races amount to illegal gambling devices.
In a decision released Thursday, the court upheld a district judge's ruling that the devices, which had been approved by the state's Pari-Mutuel Commission in 2002, are nothing more than illegal slot machines.
"We agree with the district court's tacit conclusion that we are not dealing with a new technology here," the high court stated. "(W)e are dealing with a slot machine that attempts to mimic traditional pari-mutuel wagering. Although it may be a good try, we are no so easily beguiled."
The machines, which are no longer in operation in Wyoming, had allowed gamblers to place bets on video clips of races that had already taken place without giving bettors the names or standings of the horses. The state's Pari-Mutuel Commission had approved the machines for operation in Wyoming in 2002.
Based on the commission's approval, Wyoming Downs Rodeo Events, LLC, a Las Vegas, Nev., company, installed up to 80 of the machines in Evanston, Rock Springs and Cheyenne.
But after approving the machines, the Pari-Mutuel Commission asked Wyoming Attorney General for an opinion whether the machines were illegal. Crank issued a formal opinion in 2004 that the machines were not legal in the state.
Following Crank's opinion, police in Cheyenne shut down the operation of the machines. Wyoming Downs appealed the police action to Laramie County District Judge Edward Grant, who last summer ruled that the machines were illegal. Thursday's supreme court ruling upholds Grant's decision.
In a similar decision this winter, the supreme court ruled that electronic bingo machines that had been operated by some fraternal organizations amounted to illegal gambling devices prohibited in the state.
Eric Nelson, president of Wyoming Downs, said Thursday he was frustrated with the court ruling. He said it has been frustrating for his company to rely on the commission's approval of the betting machines only to have them deemed illegal.
Nelson said his company removed the machines from the state following Crank's opinion that they were illegal. He said the company returned them to the manufacturer and suffered a financial loss.
Legislators in 2005 passed a bill that would have made the betting machines legal in the state, but Gov. Dave Freudenthal vetoed it.
Nelson said he expects to see legislation in next year's session either to attempt again to make the machines legal in the state or to allow some other expansion in gambling.
Nelson is also president of Wyoming Horseracing, Inc., which operates a horse racing track in Evanston and runs four off-track betting parlors around the state. He said he wants to meet with Freudenthal in coming months to discuss the future of horse racing in the state.
"We still have 100 percent commitment to the racing commission," Nelson said. "They want to keep that racetrack. I believe the governor wants that racetrack and the racing industry to survive."
Wyoming Attorney General Pat Crank was out of town Thursday and did not immediately return a call for comment from The Associated Press.