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CHEYENNE – Companies operating bar games that resemble video slot machines are challenging the Wyoming attorney general’s position that they’re enabling illegal gambling.

In a lawsuit filed recently in Natrona County District Court, a group of vendors called Wyoming Skills LLC says special features in their games make winning a question of skill, exempting them from state gambling laws.

The games from North Carolina-based Banilla Corp. mimic casino-style slot machines that are illegal in Wyoming. But the vendors say skill comes in when the tumblers stop spinning and a player has 15 seconds to tap the right tumbler to make icons line up.

Vendors’ attorneys also contend that a “Prize Viewer” feature that shows players the amount they can win on each spin before risking money eliminates any hint of chance or luck that would make the game illegal.

Attorney General Peter Michael wasn’t convinced earlier this month, when he issued an opinion saying the more than 300 machines in Wyoming were illegal because the amount of skill required to put icons in a row is minimal. He also noted that the legal exemption for skill games requires that awards be made only to players, and that since the games are designed to pay out only some of the time, they fail that test.

But the vendors, represented by Cheyenne law firm Woodhouse, Roden and Nethercott, are hoping a judge will see things differently.

They’re also asking for an injunction to prevent law enforcement from acting on Michael’s opinion until an official ruling is made.

Michael’s guidance says playing the games constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $750 fine, and says “aiding or inducing others” to play the games could be a felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a $3,000 fine.

Vendors say threats of prosecution from Natrona, Platte, Sublette and Campbell counties have effectively shut down games there, causing irreparable harm to their businesses and employees.

(Laramie County District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg, who leaves office in January, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle he’ll leave the decision to prosecute to his successor. But vendors say Sheriff Danny Glick told them he would seize machines here and prosecute regardless.)

The lawsuit also argues disabling the machines cuts off key revenue for bars and other establishments that have struggled to cope with the loss of historic horse race machines to facilities dedicated solely to those games.

“Since Wyoming Skills LLC began operating their skill equipment in local bars and establishments, the bars that were barely getting (by) are now flourishing,” the filing reads. “Many of the bar owners will have to close their doors if they suddenly lose this income that they have come to rely on over the past few years.”

A date for a hearing on the matter has not been set.

Austin Huguelet is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. He can be reached at ahuguelet@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3182. Follow him on Twitter at @ahuguelet.

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