CHEYENNE – A proposal to legalize online sports wagering and drum up extra revenue for Wyoming passed a first vote in the Senate on Thursday after an amended bill narrowly cleared the House earlier this month.
House Bill 133 still faces two more votes in the Senate before reaching the governor's desk.
If ultimately approved, the bill directs the Wyoming Gaming Commission to regulate online sports gambling, including imposing fees and penalties. The commission will have until September to draft rules.
"(The bill) tries to stop the black market that is taking place now, put consumer protection into the bill, and then allow people in Wyoming ... to place bets," Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, said in support of the bill on Thursday. "Then it has a 10% tax on that bet."
In a fiscal note, the Legislative Service Office said it was difficult to estimate how much revenue legalization would create. But the Gaming Commission estimates the state’s sports wagering market has a $449 million value in Wyoming.
The bill would transfer a portion of the revenue generated from the gambling program to the Department of Health to provide resources for gambling addiction treatment.
The controversial bill passed by a razor-thin margin in the House on March 10 after a reconsideration vote, following intense debate on the floor the day before.
"This particular fun activity has the potential of destroying a lot of lives," Rep. Evan Simpson, R-Afton, who opposed the bill, said on the floor on March 9. "Addictions are real, and they will happen, if we pass this bill. Betting on sporting events is not an activity that does not have consequences."
Before the House voted on the bill, Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Riverton, urged the body to oppose it. The Eastern Shoshone tribe was not "brought to the table" for input on the bill, she said.
"I think we do a disrespect when we didn't bring them to the table, didn't bring them into the discussions, because this affects them as well," she said.
A pair of amendments on the bill's first reading in the Senate changed its effective date from July 1 to Sept. 1. Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, suggested Thursday that further amendments are needed to clarify some procedural details for potential online wagering violations.
Proponents say online sports gambling already occurs in the state illicitly, and the state is missing out on needed money.
"There are people who migrate out of the state to place those bets," Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, reasoned. "This is already happening both legally and illegally. A big part of this bill is not to necessarily to create a hammer to go after those who are doing it illegally, but more to create a more protected and regulated environment, so when they place the bet and they win, their bets are paid."
Over a dozen states across the country have legalized online sports betting.
The third-read vote on the gambling bill in the House was 32-28.
Staff writer Ellen Gerst contributed to this report.