CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- In late November, hundreds of Wyoming residents traveled to neighboring states to buy Powerball tickets, lured by a $500 million jackpot.
That exodus of dollars and the support of lottery ticket buyers is what Wyoming lottery proponents hope will carry a bill through the Wyoming Legislature early next year.
A lottery bill narrowly failed in the 2011 legislative session on a 27-33 roll call vote.
It was the third time in six years lawmakers spurned a lottery bill.
Wyoming currently is one of only seven states without a lottery.
State Rep. David Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, sponsored the 2011 bill and will introduce the same bill again next year. The session opens Jan. 8.
He believes the state is trending in favor of a lottery.
“I think there are just a lot of people in Wyoming who would like a chance to participate in that for various reasons,” Zwonitzer said.
He mentioned the cafe located just across the border south of Cheyenne that sells more lottery tickets than any other site in Colorado.
The 2013 bill would dedicate the state’s profits from the lottery to fix city and county roads. The money would be distributed to the local governments under the same formula used for sales tax revenues.
Zwonitzer said the best estimates made in 2011 were that a lottery would generate $12 million to $14 million per year.
Other supporters say the amount could be higher. Meanwhile, opponents claim a lottery wouldn’t result in any money for the state, only grief.
A 2010 Legislative Service Office fact sheet estimated Wyoming could generate between $20 million and $40 million per year in revenue -- ticket sales -- if it operated its own lottery and also participated in Powerball multi-state lotteries.
The report said North Dakota lottery revenues were the lowest in the nation, a condition researchers attributed to the state having no state lottery, only participating in multistate lotteries.
Other states in the region, including South Dakota and Montana, participate in multistate lotteries but also have their own lotteries.
The amount of income the states receive as proceeds is affected by administrative costs and the size of the prizes. If a larger portion of the revenues go to prizes and administration, then a smaller portion will be available as proceeds, the report said.
Zwonitzer’s bill establishes a quasi-state corporation with nine board members who have broad authority to set up lottery games, including a state lottery or to enter a multistate lottery.
Under the Wyoming lottery bill, the expectation is that 45 percent of the lottery ticket net proceeds would go toward prizes.
The lottery retailers would receive commissions of not less than 6 percent on gross sales.
Supporters say the lottery will help businesses because it will keep Wyoming residents from going to neighboring states to buy tickets, a trip likely to include spending on lunch, dinner and shopping.
A major argument against a lottery is that it attracts primarily low-income people who can least afford to be throwing their money away but are hoping for a lucky break.
Rep. Jim Byrd, D-Cheyenne, a co-sponsor of the bill, said these people are already throwing their money away gambling on pull tabs, which are widely available.
Byrd said he hopes that by directing the state’s share of profits to roads, it will ease the pressure on the Legislature to increase the tax on gasoline for highway funding.
The Wyoming Association of Churches is a major opponent of a lottery.
The group’s arguments offered against the 2011 bill still stand, said Chesie Lee, the association’s executive director.
Other than objecting to the bill on moral grounds, a lottery does not seem to be very profitable for the state, Lee said.
The liquor retailers, she said, support the bill because they will make a commission on the sale of tickets.
Although the bill gives the corporation authority to select and certify the retailers that will sell the lottery tickets, Zwonitzer said the opportunity probably would will be open to all businesses.
“The corporation will set up rules and regulations about who can do it,” Zwonitzer said.
He mentioned convenience stores, truck stops and grocery stores as places that might sell lottery tickets.
“If you want to make an investment to put the machine in and follow the rules and can sell enough tickets, I think that’s how it would be handled,” he added.
Lee’s group, meanwhile, also believes there is a connection between gambling and alcohol addiction.
Lee said she believes the people in Fremont County, with its gambling casinos and alcohol abuse problems, are finding that out.
The church group contends that every household in the state would have to spend $120 per year on tickets for the lottery to break even.
Since the proposed corporation will not be a state agency, there would be no control over salaries and fringe benefits paid to the lottery industry chief executive officer and staff, the church association information sheet said.
It also pointed out that a 1994 ballot initiative to allow gambling failed with 69 percent of the voters opposed.
Mike Moser is executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, a steadfast supporter of a lottery.
“Whether folks support or oppose a lottery, whatever the form, it will make money, and a chunk of it,” Moser said.
If the Legislature adopts the 2011 lottery bill as a model, there will be no growth in state government, no state appropriation and legislative oversight, he said.
“We have the advantage of being one of the few states without the lottery in the sense that we took the best parts from other states’ versions and incorporated it into a Wyoming version,” Moser said.
Gambling is already in Wyoming, he said, through online purchases of lottery tickets, pull tabs at almost any club in the state and slot machines in the casinos on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Gov. Matt Mead said earlier that he has no moral objections to gambling.
He said his question is what the benefit will be to the state versus a potential rise in social problems.