CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A Wyoming state House of Representatives committee will decide Friday whether a bill to create a state lottery to benefit education and the horse industry will survive.
"Kids and horses epitomize the spirit of Wyoming," bill sponsor Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, told the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee on Monday.
Wagering also is an old tradition in ranch country, she added.
A conservative estimate shows a lottery with entry tickets sold at retail stores would generate $11 million a year for the Hathaway Scholarship, she said. As the money builds up, Wallis added, some of that education money could be used for early childhood and preschool programs.
The bill provides for 60 percent of the revenue to go to prizes, 30 percent to schools and 10 percent for vendors and other costs, including about 3.5 percent for horse programs.
The proposed lottery is modeled on one that has operated successfully in Georgia for 15 years, Wallis said, putting a million children into college and creating a preschool program, with the initial students now reaching college age.
Attempts to create a Wyoming lottery have died in the Legislature in the past, Wallis said, because the state's small population cannot support a lottery.
But she said House Bill 170 creates an allowance for video lottery at horse racing tracks in the state.
At the moment, there is only one race track — Wyoming Downs in Evanston.
The bill calls for a $1 million fee for the track to install video lottery.
Wallis said that would be the seed money to start a private corporation to run the lottery.
No state funds would be invested, and the lottery would be the responsibility of the private entity. That private corporation would have the ability to bring Wyoming into multi-state games such as Powerball, as well as develop games exclusive to the state.
"If they go broke, they go broke and go through the same process (as) any private corporation," Wallis said.
"The racing industry has been struggling for a number of years," said Eric Spector, president and CEO of Wyoming Downs. His track has been operating at a loss.
But he said, "We continue to see a future in this."
One of the problems facing the industry, he said, is a decline in the horse industry. So the $1 million investment should help expand his business and the horse industry it depends upon.
Video lottery has been successful at race tracks in other states, Spector said. Race tracks are a logical place for those kinds of operations, since they are already regulated and have systems in place to handle gambling.
A number of convenience store owners and people involved in the horse industry testified in favor of the bill. No one testified against it.