Mobile sports betting is now officially legal in Wyoming.
On Wednesday, two companies were given final approval to conduct business in the Cowboy State and launched operations immediately after. These companies, DraftKings North America and BetMGM, both put out enthusiastic statements following final approval by Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission.
“We are thrilled that Wyoming sports bettors have the opportunity to experience the highly accessible and immersive fan experience along with best in class consumer protections that our product offers millions of skin-in-the-game sports fans,” said Matt Kalish, co-founder and president of DraftKings in a press release.
Now, companies that offer sports gambling through cell phone applications can legally offer their services to Wyoming residents. DraftKings and BetMGM are the only two companies that have been approved for licenses so far, according to the Wyoming Gaming Commission.
Sports gambling sites offer a number of opportunities to bet on a wide variety of sports, including game scores, daily fantasy points, and highly situational propositional bets. Johnny Avello, director of race and sports operations for DraftKings, said football and basketball are the most popular sports on his platform, although wagers can be placed on a wide variety of athletics such as cricket and darts.
“There’s certainly money to be made,” Avello said.
The most convenient service these digital platforms offer is easy access to sports gambling.
The approval couldn’t have happened without passage of House Bill 133 in last year’s legislature, a bill that legalized mobile sports betting in the state and received split support from Park County’s local representatives.
Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody) voted against it, while Sen. Tim French (R-Powell) voted to support it. Rep. Sandy Newsome (R-Cody) also voted in favor.
“We’re looking at diversifying our economy, part of which will be paid by travelers,” she said.
Legitimate sports betting sites use geolocation services to determine where a gambler is located. Prior to this bill ‘s passage, even if a user’s home state allowed sports gambling, they would not be allowed to engage in this activity while in Wyoming.
“If someone was visiting in Yellowstone they would not be allowed to place a wager,” Newsome said.
R.J. Kost (R-Powell) also supported the bill. Kost said if people are doing the activity anyway, they might as well legalize and regulate it for consumer protection, while earning some tax revenue off it.
“If people are going to do it we might as well pick up some money for it,” Kost.
Before the bill was passed, it was easy for people to get away with mobile sports betting through unlicensed websites and applications, but those doing so ran the risk of having their money stolen with few legal mechanisms to get it back.
Kost said this argument does not follow suit for other illicit activities like legalizing uses of marijuana, in that he doesn’t find sports gambling harmful to society.
“There’s no huge bets being placed,” he said. “Someone couldn’t lose their house over it.”
Although the first wager placed in Wyoming history was only a $1.10 bet on a college football game, gamblers can bet as much as $1 million through DraftKings and at least $2.3 million with BetMGM. However, bettors cannot put up money for a bet they don’t already have in their account.
Costs of doing business
A total of $300,000 from the gambling proceeds annually will be donated to the state’s counties to prevent and treat problematic gambling.
According to the North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help, approximately 2.6% of the U.S. population has some type of gambling issue. After New Jersey legalized mobile betting in August 2018, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey reported an 11% increase in helpline calls by October 2019.
Avello said his team is “very cognizant” of problem gambling and its staff receives training to recognize these types of behaviors.
The state gaming commission estimates the state’s sports wagering market to have a value of $449 million. No projections were available for how much money the activity will actually provide for the state.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge revenue stream,” Newsome said.
Wyoming law will also allow anyone over 18 to participate, unlike many states that require someone to be 21-and-older.
Currently, 80% of legal sports betting in the U.S. is done online, according to Casino.org and mobile betting is now legal in 16 U.S. states. Wyoming is the only state aside from Tennessee that only allows sports betting online, with brick and mortar operations still prohibited.
“Starting with digital is the correct way to do it, and then get onboard with brick and mortar later,” Avello said.
But the Wind River Casino in Riverton in fall 2020 indicated it would introduce sports betting regardless of state law, asserting tribal law.
Sportsbooks will pay a 10% tax on all proceeds to the state gaming commission. The commission is also charging $100,000 per permit and a $50,000 renewal fee every five years. The vendors who serve these operators will also be charged, but at much lower rates.
Rep. Dan Laursen (R-Powell) opposed the bill and said the state doesn’t need any more funding.
“I don’t believe in gambling,” he said. “We don’t need to make money off them doing it.”
Local businessman Josh Allison, who was a major proponent of the pari-mutuel gambling bill that failed on the county ballot last fall, was an advocate for HB 133.
Avid fantasy football player Kayl Michell of Cody said he is excited for the new gambling opportunities.
“Overall, I think it’s great,” he said. “Provides some great opportunities for potential partnerships in the state that could, hopefully, lead to some positive benefits for all. With colleges like UW and a fan favorite in Josh Allen in the NFL, it adds some fun, local relevant aspects to it as well, so long as it’s done in a safe and responsible way by all involved.”