Wyoming gambling overgrown, says tribal leader
RIVERTON — Wyoming’s gambling is overgrown, according to Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Jordan Dresser.
The Northern Arapaho Tribe is the only tribe in the nation that operates a Class III federal gaming license without a state compact, and through this, has generated government funding and employment for 15 years through the Wind River Hotel and Casino and other gambling ventures. The tribe also runs the only physical sports book location in Wyoming currently.
At an Oct. 7 meeting of the Wyoming Legislature Select Committee on Tribal Relations, Dresser acknowledged the 2021 Legislative Session passage of Senate Enrolled Act 44, which legalized skill-based amusement games and gave the Wyoming Gaming Commission the right to promulgate rules in the industry.
Dresser said there is a conflict between the commission’s interpretation of the new law – as enabling the expansion and new-licensure of skill-based amusement gaming ventures throughout Wyoming – and legislators’ actual intent.
“The tribe has spoken with members of the legislature regarding Senate Enrolled Act 44, and each has confirmed (the law) was not intended to expand skill-based gaming in Wyoming,” said Dresser. He asked Tribal Relations delegates to revise the law at the 2022 Legislative Session.
State Rep. Andi Clifford, D- Ethete, spoke out against the the state’s new gaming law, and the way the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s lobbyist handled it gaming legislation in general.
In the 2021 session, another gambling law legalizing online sports wagering, known as House Enrolled Act 50, also passed. Clifford had fought against it.
“I battled that bill and I have a problem with our tribal lobbyist,” said Clifford, referencing Travis McNiven, who was in the room that day at the Central Wyoming College Intertribal Center in Riverton.
Clifford said of McNiven: “I don’t know whose side he’s on... (He’s) in this room today, undermining the expansion.”
When approached by The Ranger during the lunch recess, McNiven declined to comment.
Committee co-chairman Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, discouraged Clifford from making statements during the public comment period without asking questions of presenters.
The bill legalizing online sports wagering in Wyoming was sponsored by State Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper.
In an interview with The Ranger, Walters recalled working with McNiven while crafting the bill. Its language only allowed online sports-book broadcast in Wyoming to vendors operating in at least three jurisdictions in the United States.
On behalf of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, Walters said, McNiven approached him to push for an exemption for both the NAT and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, so that they could broadcast sports wagering throughout Wyoming despite operating on just one jurisdiction each.
Walters said that without that exemption, the law “would have precluded them from any part in online (off-reservation) wagering in Wyoming, which was not my intent when I drafted it.”