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Skill gaming
Electronic skill gaming machines are illegal in Wyoming, which means people playing them are breaking the criminal law. The state has few opportunities to gamble and no official gaming regulator. (Image: Billings Gazette/Ryan Dorgan)
The AG’s opinion follows confusion among local law enforcement as to the legal status of the machines which are available at bars, restaurants, and other establishments throughout the state. The machines typically employ elements of skill, such as pattern recognition sequences, to advance the argument that they are not simple games of chance.

In the absence of any kind of state gaming commission, it’s down to local law enforcement to police illegal gambling but without oversight from a regulator to define what illegal gambling actually is.

Playing is a Crime
Michael issued his formal legal opinion as a response to a request from Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen, who was asking specifically in regard to machines manufactured by Banilla Games Inc. of North Carolina.

“At the request of law enforcement officials, I was asked to evaluate whether the electronic games manufactured by Banilla Games are illegal under Wyoming law,” Michael said. “With the cooperation of the device distributors, I have examined how they operate.

These machines are illegal gambling devices under Wyoming law,” he concluded. “Those who play them are engaged in gambling, which is a crime in Wyoming. Those who provide the games are engaged in professional gambling, which is also a crime in Wyoming.”

Michael determined that Banilla’s “Nudge” and “Hot Swap” style games — which include titles like Bathtime Bucks, Fruity Sevens, Spooky’s Loot and Mega Money Reel — include financial wagers and elements of chance.

Crackdown Coming
The opinion does not impact “historic horse racing” terminals at parimutuel off-track betting locations, or electronic bingo, both of which are explicitly permitted under Wyoming law.

Until fairly recently, almost all forms of gaming were illegal in Wyoming. In 2013, state established the lottery, and tribal casinos just a few years before that, but not without a lengthy legal battle in the federal courts. There is also parimutuel betting on horse races at Sweetwater Downs and Wyoming Downs.

A crackdown on skill gaming is expected to follow — as it has in neighboring states — but it is unlikely to be heavy-handed. The National County Sheriff’s Office told local radio station K2 that it would reach out to local businesses and to tell them the machines need to be removed to comply with state law.

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