Wyoming’s House Revenue Committee has advanced legislation that would let the state pursue a Class III gaming proposal from the Northern Arapaho Tribe to help fund K-12 education in the state.
House Bill 287 authorizes the State Board of Land Commissioners to establish up to two gaming districts in two separate counties in Wyoming.
Those counties must be located within 100 miles of a major metropolitan area – meaning, essentially, Laramie County and Uinta County, Wyoming Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, told the House Revenue Committee this week.
“This is very targeted (and) very limited,” he said. “Really, it’s around population areas.”
Those population areas – Denver and Salt Lake City – are located outside of the state, he noted, anticipating that the gaming facilities HB 287 allows would mostly generate revenue from visitors, tourists, and people passing through Wyoming on Interstate 80.
“Ninety percent of it is going to be out-of-state dollars,” Harshman said. “It’s really an incredible opportunity.”
The definition of “gaming operator” in the bill is precise as well: an entity that maintains its principal place of business in Wyoming and has operated two or more gaming facilities in the state for at least 10 years.
“It only allows (the) Northern Arapaho to conduct the operations,” Wyoming Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, told the committee.
The “intent” of that restriction is to “try to keep dollars in Wyoming,” Pappas said, explaining that, while HB 287 requires 35 percent of gaming revenues to go to the state, the rest of the money stays with the gaming operator.
If that operator is “some conglomerate from Vegas,” Pappas said their portion of the revenue is likely to leave the state.
But the revenue the Northern Arapaho Tribe earns “will go to Fremont County and will stay with the Tribe, and the Tribe will spend it,” Pappas said.
“A big bulk of the money will stay in Wyoming,” he said. “So I prefer this methodology, rather than opening it up to just anybody who wants to do gaming in Wyoming.”
Northern Arapaho Business Council co-chair Karen Returns to War said her Tribe plans to use its portion of the gaming revenue to support social service programs for Tribal members – but their “purpose” in pursuing the gaming project is to help “fund Wyoming’s K-12 education.”
“We are deeply concerned by the state’s education funding shortage and the impact it is having on our Tribal youth,” she said. “To our Tribe there is nothing more vital than the welfare of our children. They are our most precious resource. … We need to empower (them).”
HB 287 will help do just that, she said – and not just for Tribal students, but for “all our children throughout Wyoming.”
“We believe this bill is good for Wyoming,” Returns to War said. “It will address the deficit in the state’s K-12 education funding. It will create jobs. … It will stimulate economic development and growth (and) keep the money here in the state.”
The Northern Arapaho Tribe engaged a hospitality and leisure consulting company called the Innovation Group to measure the potential economic impacts Class III gaming operations could have in Wyoming, and a portion of the resulting report was distributed to the legislative committee this week showing gaming revenue in Laramie County could amount to $90 million per year – plus an additional $100 million in annual, ongoing economic impacts in the area.
NABC representative Travis McNiven pointed out that the report only calculated casino-generated revenues and did not include income that would be generated from any associated restaurants or hotels.
“(That would) be on top of all of these numbers,” he said.
The House Revenue Committee passed the bill 5-4, with Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, voting “yes.”
HB 287 was placed on General File in the Wyoming House of Representatives on Tuesday but has not yet been debated by the Committee of the Whole.
Monday is the last day legislative proposals can be heard by the Committee of the Whole in their house of origin, according to the legislative session schedule.