CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming lottery supporters have finally struck the jackpot.
Gov. Matt Mead cleared the way for Wyoming to begin the process of bringing a lottery to the state by signing House Bill 77 into law Wednesday.
The legislation will create a quasi-government corporation that will be charged with establishing a state lottery or, more likely, joining a multi-state game, such as Powerball.
The proposal narrowly passed the Legislature last month. It then faced the threat of a veto from Mead, who has been lukewarm in his support of the proposal throughout the session.
But the governor said Wednesday he decided to sign the bill into law because it was the right financial decision for the state.
"This is a way to keep Wyoming money in Wyoming," he said in a statement. "Right now, we are seeing many people cross the border and spending their dollars in out-of-state businesses. I want to keep those dollars here."
Wyoming is one of the few states that currently does not allow some type of lottery.
Many lottery supporters said the state has been missing out on both the lottery revenue and the related sales tax money when Wyomingites travel outside the state to buy lottery tickets and other goods while they are doing so.
The state estimates the lottery could generate $5 million to $9 million a year in revenue for Wyoming.
The bill calls for the first $6 million to be distributed to cities, towns and counties based on the state's sales tax formula. Any additional earnings would flow into the permanent land fund's common school account.
The bill does not allow for scratch-off or other instant-win games.
Mead has previously said he worries more about those type of games and their potential to lead to gambling problems and other societal issues.
But he said the lottery bill he approved could still have negative effects, which will need to be monitored.
"This is a form of gambling, and I commit to keeping a close eye on any social impacts of the lottery when it gets up and running to see if there are ways to address those," he said.
Rep. Dave Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who sponsored the bill, said he views the lottery as more of a type of entertainment than gambling.
He said Wednesday that he is happy the bill is becoming law because it is something that his constituents have wanted for years.
Attempts to pass lottery bills failed in each of the past three general legislative sessions dating back to 2007.
"I thought it had about a 50-50 chance of passing this time and that it would need some luck to get through," he said. "So I guess the timing was finally right."
Zwonitzer said he is also satisfied with how the revenue distribution model worked out.
The bill originally called for all proceeds to go to the local governments. But it was amended in the Senate so that all the money would go to the saving account for schools.
The two chambers eventually settled on the compromise to split the money between the localities and the schools.
Zwonitzer added that the bill contains a clause for the Legislature to review where the revenue is distributed after six years. He said the state should then have a better idea of how much the lottery will actually generate.
Nephi Cole, a policy adviser in the governor's office, said Mead will be able to name the nine members to the lottery corporation after July 1.
He said the board members will be paid the same stipend that applies to legislators during the session.
The corporation will then name a CEO and select a firm that will serve as the vendor for the lottery.
Cole said that firm will provide all the expertise and equipment needed to get the lottery's terminals operational in various retail locations throughout the state.
Cole said the lottery corporation will need to find financing on its own without the help of state funds. However, he and others said lotteries are typically seen as reliable customers and do not face major challenges in securing the financing from banks or other lenders.
Cole said he couldn't put a timeline on when residents will actually be able to buy lottery tickets in the state.
But Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, said most states can generally enter all the necessary agreements and put in the lottery's infrastructure in six to nine months once the appointments and hirings are done.