Despite being ranked the 10th largest state in the US, Wyoming has the absolute lowest population of just 584,153 (est. 2014). The state’s great expanse of rugged terrain, from the low lying foothills to the towering Rocky Mountains, is known for its vast acreage of farm and ranch lands, hence the nickname ‘The Cowboy State’. But cowboys are also known for their love of poker, and with that in mind, we’ll be examining the laws of online poker in Wyoming.
At present, only three states have moved forward with regulation of internet poker games. Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey all launched their respective iGaming markets in 2013. That information alone tells us that Wyoming legislators have not regulated online poker. But when something isn’t specifically authorized, that alone doesn’t always mean it’s illegal. By studying the current landscape and laws of gambling in the Cowboy State, we hope to identify the current legal status of online poker.
Land-based Gambling in Wyoming
Gambling was a natural way of life in the old days. As more travelers passed through on their way to California in search of gold, saloons began popping up by the dozens throughout the mid-1800’s. In 1880, the historic Occidental Hotel was built, receiving such guests as Butch Cassidy, Calamity Jane and Teddy Roosevelt, while also playing host to some of the highest stake poker games in the Old West. The stakes became so high, in fact, that in 1918, John and Al Smith actually won ownership of the hotel in a poker game.
Nearly two decades prior to that, officials felt the gambling rate was growing out of control, thus they tried to put an end to it with the passage of the McGill Act of 1901. Obviously, gambling still continued after it was outlawed, but on a much lower scale.
Since then, the progression of legalized forms of gambling has moved at a snail’s pace. Tribes were permitted to open very limited gaming facilities when the IGRA was passed by the federal government in 1988, and it wasn’t until 2011 that charitable bingo and raffles, followed by pari-mutuel race betting, was approved. Then in 2013, the state lottery was established, but on a much more restrictive basis than most states.
Just recently, Wyoming lawmakers gave tribes a few more inches of slack in their game variety, allowing the addition of live poker tables at tribal casinos. Wind River Casino in Riverton is the only facility to currently offer poker games, but Shoshone Rose Casino in Washakie is undergoing an expansion to the hotel and gaming floor that should see a poker room open in Spring 2015.
Deciphering the Laws of Wyoming as they relate to Online Poker
The subject of Gambling is tackled in Title 6, Chapter 7, Article 1 of the Wyoming Statues. The following contents are quoted directly from that text.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|(ii) “Gain” means the direct realization of winnings;||Any winnings derived from gambling are defined as “gain”.|
|(iii) “Gambling” means risking any property for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device or the happening or outcome of an event, including a sporting event, over which the person taking a risk has no control, but does not include [state authorized gambling, charitable bingo/raffles]||Because money is being staked, and the outcome is based ‘in part on chance’, poker is considered a form of “gambling” in Wyoming.|
|(iv) “Gambling device” means any device, machine, paraphernalia or equipment except an antique gambling device that is used or usable in the playing phases of any professional gambling activity, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine;||If professional gambling is accessed by use of any device or machine, that device can be classified as a “gambling device”. Thus a computer or mobile device used to play online poker could easily fall into this category.|
|(viii) “Professional gambling” means:
(A) Aiding or inducing another to engage in gambling, with the intent to derive a profit therefrom; or
(B) Participating in gambling and having, other than by virtue of skill or luck, a lesser chance of losing or a greater chance of winning than one (1) or more of the other participants.
|Although an online poker player would not be considered a professional gambler, the operator of the website is hosting “professional gambling”. Therefore, an online poker player could be accused of using a “gambling device” to participate in a “professional gambling” activity.|
Gambling; professional gambling; penalties
|(a) A person who engages in gambling commits a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six (6) months, a fine of not more than seven hundred fifty dollars ($750.00), or both.||If convicted of playing online poker illegally in the state of Wyoming, the penalty is up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $750 fine.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Wyoming?
Yes. The above laws make it fairly clear that online poker is illegal by default, and punishable by law, in Wyoming. A gambling device does not need to be primarily designed for wagering purposes. If gambling can be performed on a device, it can be labeled a gambling device. And if one takes part in professional gambling services that are not authorized by the state (i.e. real money online poker), they are committing unlawful gambling. When you put 2 and 2 together, it equates to online poker being illegal.
It should be noted that social poker games are perfectly acceptable. So long as no one is profiting from the game, outside of the players and their direct winnings, home poker games are perfectly legal.
Is Wyoming working to Legalize Online Poker?
No. Although state officials seems to be warming up to more forms of legalized gambling over the last few years, lawmakers in Wyoming have made no move to even consider the legalization and regulation of online poker.
The state’s diminutive population doesn’t help matters. One look at Delaware’s internet poker market and it’s obvious that Wyoming is entirely too small to support intrastate online poker. Shared liquidity with other states would be a must, and it could be years before that develops into anything administrators in the Cowboy State are willing to consider.
Of noteworthy interest, the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission did mention the rise of online wagering in its 2011 Annual Report. “Wyoming has seen a migration of bettors from on-track and simulcast locations to online (ADW) wagering. The in state operators, owners, breeders, municipalities and the Racing Commission are suffering from this migration.”
The Commission called online betting “the fastest growing sector of wagering in this decade,” saying that it “reflects the effect on the business of developments in information technology.” In conclusion, it was stated that, “The Commission is constantly reviewing its policies and regulations to accommodate industry changes pursuant to its legislated authority.”
Unfortunately, beyond that point, no other documented discussions on the subject of online betting have arisen in Wyoming.
Online Poker Players from Wyoming
Due to the legal status of internet poker in Wyoming, very few players make their online presence identifiable. The only known online poker player from the area is Mike “juvatpoker4416” / “JuvatTruckin” Barker, who’s racked up over $10,000 in tournament winning on various poker websites.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Wyoming
There are only three casinos in Wyoming. They are all of the tribal variety, tucked into the central region of the state’s Fremont County. Of those three, just one—Wind River Casino in Riverton, WY—offers a live poker room. Note that the current expansion project at Shoshone Rose Casino should include the addition of a live poker room, scheduled to open Spring 2015.
Little Wind Casino
Poker Room: No
Wind River Casino
Poker Room: Yes
Shoshone Rose Casino
Fort Washakie, WY
Poker Room: No