Wyoming is one of the few states without a lottery but that may change soon. This week a bill that would allow a state lottery and participation in multi-state lotteries like Powerball and Mega Millions won preliminary approval in the state Senate on February 20th. The Wyoming senate voted 17-to-12 to advance the bill. The bill has already passed in the House and needs two more votes in the senate. A vote is scheduled for February 22nd. The bill will allow a state lottery and multi state games but would ban the sale of instant tickets, scratch-off tickets and electronic games.
Supporters of the bill say that Wyoming residents are already spending millions every year and cross state lines to purchase lottery tickets. Lottery opponents trotted out their usual tired old arguments: the lottery is gambling, a tax on the poor and on and on ad nauseum. Republican Senator Bruce Burns is the chairman of the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee. The committee recommended passage of the lottery measure. Burns said that a Wyoming lottery could bring in about $25 million annually. Burns said that about $6 million would be net proceeds that would be distributed to Wyoming cities and counties.
The Wyoming lottery bill calls for the establishment of a corporation to oversee the lottery. Burns said the salaries of the lottery administrators would be determined by directors appointed by the governor. Senator Larry Hicks said that subtracting $6 million from the estimated $25 million annual revenues leaves $19 million. Hicks noted that at least 45% would be used for prizes leaving more than $10 million to administer the lottery. Hicks stated “If that is correct, what are we going to spend that $10.5 million on.” The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Von Flatern, responded to Hicks and stated “We don’t know, that’s the bottom line. That’s why those percentages are put in there.”
Senator Phil Nicholas expressed concerns about the accountability of the lottery corporation. Nicholas, a lawyer, told reporters “When I hear $21 million income, and $3.7 million for administration, you’ve created a quasi-governmental entity.” Nicholas went on to say “Ultimately, you’re saying, ‘here guys, you get the status of a quasi-public entity, we’re not going to look at your salaries, we’re not going to look at your expenses. How do we know, five years from now, we’re going to find out if you’re lucky enough to be the president of this entity, you’re going to get $1.2 million because it’s such a hard job? Where’s the regulatory aspect of this, where does it begin and where does it end.”