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Judge rules commissioners lacked authority for horse racing resolution

By Jonathan Gallardo
Gillette News Record
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — A district judge has ruled that the Campbell County Commissioners exceeded their authority when they passed a resolution last year revoking previous resolutions that approved off-track betting operations.

In April 2021, the commission passed a resolution that gives the live horse racing operator control over off-track betting and simulcasting in the county.

No specific company was named in the resolution, but 307 Horse Racing had signed an exclusive five-year contract with Cam-plex to do live horse racing. When the resolution passed, 307 Horse Racing became the only operator that could provide off-track betting in Campbell County.

It meant Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs had to close down its off-track betting locations in Gillette.

The resolution led to three separate lawsuits. In two of them, the county was sued by Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs. In the third, Wyoming Horse Racing sued 307 Horse Racing.

In September, 307 Horse Racing opened an off-track betting location in Boot Hill Nightclub.

In November, District Judge F. Scott Peasley of Douglas ruled that the enactment of the commissioners’ resolution should be delayed until the lawsuits were complete. This allowed Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing to reopen its Gillette locations.

In late March, Peasley ruled that the commissioners exceeded their authority by passing the resolution, and that the resolution should be “set aside,” or canceled.

Eugene Joyce, manager of Wyoming Horse Racing, said he’s “thankful” for the judge’s ruling, calling it the “right decision.”

The ruling is great not only for Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing, Joyce said, but for communities around the state that could face a similar situation down the road.

“This line of thinking” by the commissioners “created a lot of havoc,” Joyce said.

Employees were laid off, the county and city lost out on tax revenue and the horse racing industry didn’t receive money it otherwise would’ve gotten.

“Hopefully it’s behind us now,” Joyce said.

He said the commissioners moved on this issue too quickly and that they should’ve “considered a lot of things” before they passed the resolution.

“I think that the county commissioners got way over their skis on this,” he said. “I don’t fault them for wanting a good outcome, but for some reason, I was made the bad guy in all of this. I just quite didn’t get it.”

The county commission has the ability under state law to authorize off-track betting. The disagreement is about whether the commission can revoke prior approval, which it did when it passed this resolution.

The commissioners argued that they were exercising local control over off-track betting, and that this authority is “expressly and implicitly delegated to the commissioners” in state law.

Additionally, they said that when the state Legislature and Wyoming Gaming Commission granted commissioners the authority to approve off-track betting, it also granted them “the implied power to revoke” that approval.

Peasley disagreed, saying that the authority to revoke lies solely with the Wyoming Gaming Commission.

“There is not specific statutory authority for a county to ‘enforce’ or to regulate those applicants approved by the Gaming Commission,” Peasley wrote.

The county has the authority to issue permits, but it “would be incongruent to find that a County has the additional authority to revoke prior approvals, including those resolutions that approved simulcasting outside live horse race-track premises.”

Wyoming law doesn’t specifically give counties the authority to revoke prior approvals, “nor can the court find that such authority is implied.”

Peasley wrote that “a plain reading” of state law shows that once the county approves a permit by resolution, the terms of the permit “are governed exclusively by the Gaming Commission.”

“The court finds that the Commissioners lacked the implied authority to revoke the prior resolutions, and doing so exceeded the power available to them under these circumstances,” Peasley wrote. “As a result, the court finds that Resolution 2077 must be set aside.”

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