As live horse racing resumes for a 16-day season beginning this weekend at Morningside Park, there’s much to get Campbell County excited.

Racing is another example of life slowly returning to some semblance of normalcy as the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its 16th month. After more than a year of restrictions, shutdowns and other obstacles, many sectors of the local economy need more events like the races at Cam-plex. Any way you place a bet this weekend and for the rest of 307 Horse Racing’s season, Campbell County wins.

Unless you also take bets on live and historic horse races.

That’s because the Campbell County Commission has given 307 Horse Racing an unfair monopoly that, if its decision stands, will close a pair of horse wagering businesses that have been established for years.

Commissioners approved a resolution giving 307 Horse Racing control over off-track betting and simulcasting in the county because it has an exclusive contract to put on live horse racing here. Although the races will only be held 16 days of the year, the county maintains that state law gives 307 Horse Racing total control year-round within 100 miles of the race track.

The result is Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs, which together operate three electronic wagering locations in Gillette, have to close their doors beginning today, unless a judge rules otherwise. These are businesses that have invested millions of dollars into their operations, employ dozens of people and have paid back more than $5 million to local governments.

To say the commission overstepped its authority here is a gross understatement, which is one of the key arguments Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs make in a lawsuit seeking a stay on the county’s order to shut them down.

The businesses argue that the exclusive control over off-track and simulcast betting is only in effect for those days live horse racing is happening. In this case, the 16 days 307 Horse Racing is operating.

That’s also the position of the Wyoming Gaming Commission, the agency created by the state Legislature to oversee and regulate gambling in the state. The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office also agrees that the exclusivity of that control is limited to when the live races are going on.

The only loophole in the county’s resolution is that other off-track betting outlets, like Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs, are free to work out separate contracts with 307 Horse Racing to allow them to do business. In that scenario, 307 doesn’t just get a cut of the profits of business those outlets do when the live races are running, it would get that cut year-round.

It would be different if live horse racing were a year-round enterprise in Campbell County. At 16 days, it’s far from it. It’s like giving a single liquor license holder an exclusive stranglehold on all liquor sales year-round because it has an exclusive contract to supply spirits during the county fair or some other limited festival.

If that sounds absurd, it is. But it’s no more absurd that the commissioners ignoring the opinions of both the Gaming Commission and attorney general to over-regulate to the point of shuttering profitable businesses and putting people out of work.

Before 307 Horse Racing came along — and we 100% support this local business — both Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing operated without exclusivity and have flourished. From 2015-19, Wyoming Horse Racing put on live races in Gillette. During those years, the county didn’t give it control over off-track betting year-round and force Wyoming Downs to close.

The court was scheduled to hear motions on the injunction by Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing on Friday afternoon after press time for the weekend newspaper. This needs quick action by the court, but that won’t be necessary if the commissioners admit they false-started and withdraw their ordinance. 307 will still have control while putting on its races, then compete on the same track as everyone else the rest of the time.

Greg Johnson

Gillette News Record

May 22

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