In the latest push to make Wyoming a Powerball state, an interim legislative committee on Monday authorized legislation allowing Wyoming to join the multi-state lottery.
Individual lawmakers have sponsored Powerball bills in past legislative sessions, but this marks the first time a committee will formally introduce a bill of its own.
A Casper Star-Tribune poll of voters earlier this year showed that 62 percent support Powerball in Wyoming. The poll margin of error was 4 percent.
"The way I look at it, the lottery is something the majority of the people in this state want, and that's reason enough to pass the bill," said Wayne Reese, D-Cheyenne, a member of the Joint Interim Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, which authorized the bill.
The committee is meeting in Cody this week to discuss a number of measures. It voted 8-5 in favor of the Powerball bill.
Reese said the committee's legislation will be modeled after a similar bill proposed in 2005 by Rep. Dave Edwards, R-Douglas. The bill will include funding to address gaming addiction, a factor that was missing from the 2005 bill and probably contributed to its demise.
State lawmakers have repeatedly defeated efforts to include Wyoming in Powerball, although the votes have been getting closer. Edwards' bill died on a 29-29 House vote in 2005.
Last summer, lawmakers considered calling for a nonbinding referendum to gauge public sentiment on the issue, but a legislative committee in December opted against sponsoring a referendum bill during the recent budget session.
Twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands currently take part in Powerball. The largest-ever jackpot was $365 million won by eight co-workers at a Lincoln, Neb., ham processing plant in February.
The odds of winning a Powerball jackpot are approximately 1 in 146,107,962.
The numbers sound good to Cheyenne resident Kathy Meade, a supporter of Powerball in Wyoming.
Meade doesn't like the fact that so many Wyomingites travel out of state to buy lottery tickets. "I see an awful lot of dollars going to Colorado," she said.
Sundance resident Tom Richards said he makes the 30-mile drive to Spearfish, S.D., about once a month to by a lottery ticket. He'd play more often if he could buy his tickets in-state.
"I think that Wyoming should do it," said Richards, adding that he thinks the social problems blamed on gambling are overstated.
Paul Johnson of Lander said he opposes Powerball in Wyoming after seeing the negative effects of lotteries elsewhere in the country while he was in the military.
"I've seen people spend their house money, medication money, food money for gambling, and then it's gone," Johnson said. "It's not the rich who are spending their money on that."
It's unclear what kind of return Wyoming can expect if it decides to join the lottery community. States earn a portion of tickets sales, with legislatures deciding how the money is spent.
Rep. Edwards estimated in 2005 that the state could net about $10 million a year in Powerball proceeds. Reese said Monday he thinks the figure could be around $6 million.
The initial bill from the travel committee won't include a breakdown of how the state will spent its cut of the money. The committee will work out those details at its June meeting, Reese said.
The committee plans to introduce the bill when the Legislature meets in January.