Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission Forces Shutdown of Historical Racing
The temporary shutdown took effect October 4.
October 8, 2015
On October 2, the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission ordered the shutdown of all Historic Racing terminals in the state by midnight Sunday, October 4, giving operators just 60 hours to shut down.
The decision effectively shut down Historic Racing in the state, terminating the flow of millions of tax dollars to state and local authorities and effectively terminating the very industry that had been the lifeblood of Wyoming’s live horse racing. In addition, the order to cease operating the terminals has already resulted and will continue to result in employee layoffs. The order also threatens the 2016 live racing season in Wyoming.
The basis for the shutdown was a claim by the Pari-Mutuel Commission that the Historic Racing terminals contained a component of luck or randomness, in contradiction of state law. However, before the terminals were put into use, the same Commission determined that the Historic Racing terminals operated in a manner consistent with state law.
The Commission sought and received an opinion on the compliance of the terminals from Gaming Laboratories International, the largest and most respected third-party testing and compliance vendor of wagering devices. It was only on reliance on the Commission’s prior determination that the terminals were compliant with state law that Wyoming Downs spent millions of dollars buying the specific terminals approved for use by the Commission.
Despite pleas from the operators of Historic Racing terminals to allow the operators to remain open while the manufacturer of the terminals make adjustments, the Commission ordered the shutdown.
Historic Racing remains legal; the licensing to operate the Historic Racing terminals remains unquestioned and intact, and simulcast betting windows can remain open. However, the stunning ruling came after the Historic Racing industry had played by all the rules, after the 2013 Wyoming legislature had approved Historic Racing terminals, after Governor Meade had signed a bill making Historic Racing terminals legal, after regulations set by multiple entities had been met, after all the specific approvals had been obtained, after owners had spent millions of dollars on the Historic Racing terminals, after millions of dollars had been invested in the live horse racing industry, and after millions of dollars of taxes had gone into city, county, and state coffers.
The order to shut down came after Wyoming’s live horse racing industry had been brought back to life with breeders and horsemen recommitting to an industry that had lost its pulse.
“Through its ruling, the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission basically said, ‘Shut ’er down,’” said Wyoming Downs owner Eric Nelson.
Wyoming Downs informed many of its employees via letter that they will be placed on temporary unpaid furlough for the next 30 days. Should the work stoppage extend beyond 30 days, they will be placed on permanent layoff.
Wyoming Downs has created hundreds of jobs for families across the state, employed both directly and indirectly by the Historic Racing industry. As a result of the racing and horsemen/breeders industry momentum supported by Historic Racing revenue, 2015 live racing events across the state saw record attendance and wagering handle. According to industry members at all levels, live racing was not only on the rebound, it had come back.
In early 2015, the Commission director requested a legal opinion from the state Attorney General’s office in response to complaints from special interest groups. After approximately five months of investigation, the Attorney General’s opinion was made public during an October 2 Pari-Mutuel Commission meeting in Casper.
The misperception that all recorded Historic Racing and live horserace wagers are business profits has fueled misunderstanding among commissioners and legislatures and industry naysayers. Actual profits are approximately 1 percent of wagered handle. Taxes at multiple levels, business expenses, and employee salaries usurp the bulk of revenue.
“It’s going to be tough, but Wyoming Downs is working to complete the transitional requirements as quickly as possible in order to reopen the off-track betting facilities, bring people back to work, and hopefully ensure that we have a live horse race season next year,” said Nelson.
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