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Traffic slowly moves through areas of heavy construction along Lakeway Road on Thursday afternoon as the four-lane roadway is reduced to two.

Wyoming Horse Racing, Wyoming Downs suing commissioners

Two Wyoming live horse racing outlets are betting that a lawsuit they’ve filed against the Campbell County Commissioners will pay off in their favor.

Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs have filed an injunction against a resolution the commission passed this spring that gives control over off-track betting and simulcasting activities to whoever is operating live horse racing in the county.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Jeremaya Holms plays a betting machine at Wyoming Downs back in February in Gillette.

Without a ruling in their favor, when live horse racing starts its season at Morningside Park on Saturday, Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs in Gillette will basically be abruptly out of business, and dozens of people will be unemployed, according to their lawsuit.

The injunction asked the 6th Judicial District Court to scratch the resolution out of the gate. The businesses claim they will “both suffer catastrophic and irreparable harm if the resolution is not stayed.”

The lawsuit accuses the commissioners of playing favorites. The resolution passed April 20 is “an exercise in crony capitalism” and is “illegal, beyond the scope of their authority, arbitrary and capricious, and has zero basis in objective fact, logic, or law,” it says.

It also alleges that the commissioners are “intentionally seeking to destroy two businesses.”

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Wyoming Downs recently made history as a Gillette man won big after placing a $3 bet and winning $490,685.58.

Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing are represented by attorneys Matthew J. Micheli and Macrina M. Sharpe with Holland and Hart, and Robert C. Jarosh and Traci L. Lacock with Hirst Applegate. Both firms are out of Cheyenne.

The companies also are asking for a declaratory judgment that the commissioners exceeded their statutory authority and jurisdiction in passing the resolution.

Wednesday, the commissioners hired a pair attorneys to represent them in the suit.

As of Friday morning, no hearing had been scheduled for the civil action that had been filed with District Judge Thomas Rumpke. And the case that had been assigned to District Judge John R. Perry has been reassigned to District Judge Scott Peasley of the Eighth Judicial District.

How we got here?

The resolution gives the county’s exclusive live horse racing operator — in this case 307 Horse Racing — control over off-track betting and simulcasting in the county. It also allows that written permission for simulcasting and off-track betting can be given to groups that aren’t putting on live horse races, but those agreements would have to be worked out between the contracted live racing company and its potential competitors.

In 2013, Campbell County Commissioners approved resolutions allowing Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs to conduct parimutuel wagering in the county. This followed the passage of a bill, co-sponsored by former Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, that allows for the simulcasting of parimutuel events, also called historic horse racing.

Based on those 2013 decisions, Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing have operated in Campbell County since.

In 2020, 307 Horse Racing signed an exclusive contract with Cam-plex to conduct live horse racing at Morningside Park for the next five years.

Wyoming law states that “no simulcasting may be conducted within 100 miles of any premises” where live horse racing happens. 307 Horse Racing argues that it has full rights to any off-track betting machines within 100 miles of Cam-plex for the whole year.

The injunction said that 307 Horse Racing asked the Wyoming Gaming Commission to demand that the other two operators shut down in Campbell County. The Gaming Commission denied the request, and 307 Horse Racing then asked it to remove the rule. The Gaming Commission decided to keep the rule in place.

The Wyoming Attorney General’s opinion was that 307 Horse Racing would have the rights to those machines only on race days, or 16 days out of the year. The Wyoming Gaming Commission came to the same conclusion.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Resident Steve Rozier looks toward Randy Greer of 307 Horse Racing while expressing his concerns to Campbell County Commissioners on Wednesday.

307 Horse Racing then went to the Campbell County Commission, which passed its resolution giving a live horse racing operator control of off-track betting. Because of 307 Horse Racing’s exclusive contract with Cam-plex, it is essentially the only operator that can have off-track betting.

Commissioner Colleen Faber, who drafted the resolution, said off-the-track betting operations “are part and parcel to live horse racing,” and that operators should not be operating OTBs if they are not also running live horse races.

Instead of control only on its race days, the commissioners gave 307 Horse Racing carte blanche for the next five years because of its exclusive contract, the other operators argue in their lawsuit. The resolution, in effect, kills a pair of businesses that have been operating for eight years without problems.

“They are attempting to directly overturn and overrule state statute, an Attorney General’s opinion addressing that statute, a state agency rule and a unanimous state agency decision doing exactly the opposite” of the resolution, their attorneys wrote.

In passing the resolution, the commissioners “decided to change and effectively revoke” the approval “without any meaningful public notice or due process considerations,” the attorneys wrote.

The resolution “imposed illegal restrictions on the approval of simulcasting,” stripping Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing of their vested rights without due process of law.”

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Ron Doty sits down for an evening of betting on digital machines at Wyoming Downs back in February. Doty said he typically comes once a month with $100 in his pocket to relax and sees where it takes him.

Beyond their authority

The injunction also accuses commissioners of acting beyond the their authority.

State statute delegates authority over parimutuel activities to the Wyoming Gaming Commission, and leaves “a very small role for county commissioners,” according to the injunction. The commissioners’ role is to grant approval for those activities to take place in their county.

By giving Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing approval to do off-track betting in 2013, the commissioners created a vested right and do not have the power to take that away, the attorneys wrote.

The commissioners also are being accused of not giving proper, legal formal notice of the April 20 meeting.

As of 9 a.m. April 19, there was no public notice or agenda posted to the county’s website.

Typically, the county posts meeting agendas the Friday before Tuesday meetings. An agenda was posted later Monday morning, but that was less than 24 hours before the start of the meeting.

As a result, Wyoming Downs did not have enough time to participate or make public comment, the attorneys wrote.

The commissioners “simply desired to cost two private entities millions of dollars in lost investment and more importantly cause dozens of people to lose their jobs without even pretending to have any evidence or basis for making that decision.”

If the resolution is not stayed, their three off-track betting locations in Gillette will have to shut down May 22, the attorneys wrote, which will “injure the reputation and goodwill of both parties.”

Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing have spent years and millions of dollars building up their businesses and developing a loyal customer base. If they closed down, about 50 jobs would be lost. If they reopened, not all of the former employees would return to work for them, and finding and training new workers is “something that cannot be adequately compensated through damages.”

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Ron Doty sits down at a wagering machine at Wyoming Downs earlier this year. A pair of historic horse racing businesses in Gillette are suing the Campbell County Commissioners, asking for a stay on a new ordinance that would give 307 Horse Racing exclusive rights to do off-track betting in the county starting May 22, when the company’s live horse racing season begins.

The commissioners’ side

The commissioners passed the resolution on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner D.G. Reardon the lone dissenting voice.

“I don’t think it’s right that we pick winners and losers in a free market system,” Reardon said, adding that all of them should be allowed to operate in Campbell County.

“It’s definitely government overreach,” he said. “We’re picking who’s going to be in Campbell County, who’s going to have carte blanche control over off-track betting. I just didn’t think that was right.”

Commissioner Del Shelstad said that during the process leading up to the passage of the resolution, he felt that Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs “were being deceitful, trying to get the Gaming Commission to take their side.”

“I think they were being spiteful, they didn’t want 307 in,” Shelstad said.

And when he saw that a bill had been introduced in this year’s Legislature to abolish the 100-mile radius rule, “that told me we were doing the right thing.” That bill, House Bill 125, failed in the House on a 23-37 vote.

Faber, who drafted the resolution, said there shouldn’t be off-track betting if there is no live horse racing going on.

“We have the best horse racing track in the state. The county needed to step up and encourage that track to be used,” she said.

In the last several years, the city and county have received more than $5 million combined in tax revenue from the historic horse racing machines.

“The amount of revenue live horse racing brings in will be significantly higher than the small percentage off of the facilities,” Faber said.

She said the controversy stems from the fact that there’s now a third company putting on live horse races.

“There’s going to be some bumpy spots when there’s a new competitor,” Faber said.

As for the Wyoming Gaming Commission ruling against 307 Horse Racing, Faber said it’s a situation of “this commission getting their feet under them, not wanting to dive into something that could look like a controversy.”

Thursday morning, Commissioner Rusty Bell said he voted for the resolution because “I’m trying to do what’s best for Campbell County.” He would not say anything more on the issue based on the advice of the commission’s legal counsel.

Faber, Shelstad and Reardon spoke with the News Record on Tuesday, before outside legal counsel was hired Wednesday.

Blaine Sumner gets low while squatting a large amount of weight during the 2019 International Powerlifting Federation Championships in Dubai. Sumner recently participated in a film called “Strength Wars: The Movie” to compete for the title of World’s Strongest Man.

307 Horse Racing gearing up for start of racing season

In one week, live horse racing will return to Gillette, but also could mean the end for three other Gillette businesses.

Since the beginning of April, Randy and Jack Greer of 307 Horse Racing have been doing work at Morningside Park in preparation for May 22, the start of the live racing season. They’re excited to put on races for the foreseeable future. They have a five-year exclusive deal with Cam-plex for live horse racing.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Randy Greer of 307 Horse Racing chats about the upgrades being completed just before the start of this year’s horse racing season at Morningside Park on Wednesday.

“We plan on being here for years,” Randy said.

Along with 307 Horse Racing preparing the track last month, Campbell County Commissioners passed a resolution saying that off-track betting can only be done by an operator that also is putting on live horse racing.

Now the commissioners are being been sued by Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing, two local historic horse racing operators that will be squeezed out of offering off-track betting. They claim the resolution is illegal and that commissioners acted outside of their statutory authority.

If the District Court does not file an injunction prohibiting the resolution from being enacted, then the two Wyoming Downs locations in Gillette and the Horse Palace, part of Wyoming Horse Racing, will be shut down.

As of Friday morning, no hearing had been scheduled for the civil action that had been filed with District Judge Thomas Rumpke. And the case that had been assigned to District Judge John R. Perry has been reassigned to District Judge Scott Peasley of the Eighth Judicial District.

mmoore / News Record File Photo/Mike Moore 

Randy Greer of 307 Horse Racing explains the recent improvements implemented at Morningside Park’s horse track in mid-May. 307 Horse Racing is requesting a reduction in its lease with Cam-plex in return for its investment in fixing up the racetrack.

307 Horse Racing is not part of the litigation, and “we’ll still keep going, we’re not stopping,” Randy said.

Live horse races are expensive to put on, and the money that comes in from off-track betting will support live horse racing, he said. 307 Horse Racing will open an off-track betting location in the bottom level of Boot Hill Nightclub and Sports Bar, along with dozens of historic horse racing machines.

There is no opening date scheduled yet, and Jack Greer said 307 Horse Racing also is “actively pursuing” other off-track betting locations around the state.

The first races are May 22 and 23, and will go on each weekend through June 27, the date of the final race. Each race day will have eight races with eight to 10 horses each.

Jack said it will be the longest horse racing season in Gillette, with the most horses and the largest purse.

Randy said he’s spent $200,000 on upgrades to the track, including putting in a new rail, doing considerable dirt work and digging a drainage ditch around the track.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Randy Greer of 307 Horse Racing, at right, holds a broom for support as Todd Brown hooks a television up at Morningside Park Wednesday afternoon.

“In this region it’s by far the best facility race track around,” he said.

He said 600 horses will be in Campbell County during the horse racing season, and a number of them already are at Cam-plex. In addition to Wyoming, there’ll be horses from around the region, including Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nebraska and Colorado.

Although the revenue from off-track betting is what will pay for live horse racing, it’s the live horse racing that will have the larger impact for the community, Jack said.

Randy said that in addition to drawing spectators, who he expects will come from as far as Montana, and stay in Gillette for the weekends of the races, hundreds of people will be in town just to take care of the horses, and many of them will stay for the season.

“That’s where the whole economic development thing comes into play. These guys are here for two to three months,” he said. “When you stay here that long, it’s not just gas up your vehicle, grab a hamburger and leave.”

The races will take place on the same weekends each year, Randy said.

“When they know we’re going to be here forever, people end up moving here,” he said.

Jack Greer said the dust-up between the county and other historic racing operators is not an issue of commissioners picking one operator over another. The resolution does not mention 307 Horse Racing. It just says that whoever is operating live horse racing also has the authority to operate off-track betting.

“We just happen to be the people” running live horse races, Greer said. If Wyoming Horse Racing put on live horse races, they might be the ones with the contract.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Randy Greer of 307 Horse Racing looks over track improvements in light of the upcoming season at Morningside Park Wednesday.

“If (Wyoming Horse Racing) would’ve stayed running, we wouldn’t be here,” Randy said.

“Campbell County is guaranteeing they’re going to have live horse racing forever,” Jack said.

It’s not 307 Horse Racing that won big with the resolution, he said. It’s the entire county that wins.

“What (the commissioners) did here, it’s ensuring we’re going to have live horse racing,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. The other guys have been doing it the wrong way.”

On April 20, Eugene Joyce with Wyoming Horse Racing claimed that his Gillette OTB location, and Wyoming Downs locations, would have to shut down May 22 under the resolution.

Commissioner Colleen Faber said the rule allows for written agreements to be made between whoever has live horse racing and anyone else.

“They are fully free to make agreements and continue operating,” she said. “They’ve done it once, shouldn’t be a significant hurdle for them to come to an agreement again.”

An April 26 meeting was scheduled for the three operators to talk things through and reach an agreement.

“As far as I could tell, the other operators wanted to pretend the commissioners’ resolution didn’t exist,” Jack said. “The conversation didn’t go very well.”

Commissioner Del Shelstad, who attended the meeting, said that “it was a little rocky,” and no agreement was made.

“That’s all a business matter and the county should stay out of that,” he said.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Randy Greer of 307 Horse Racing walks through the grandstands at Morningside Park Wednesday.

Wednesday, Randy said the other operators had not approached him with any type of agreement.

Jack Greer said the commissioners should be commended because they knew there was potential for a lawsuit if they passed the resolution, yet they took action.

“What Campbell County did in that meeting most government officials aren’t willing to do, (and that’s to) take a stand for what’s right, take a stand for their community,” he said. “Nobody ever does that. They should be getting praise. They chose to stand up to it. That’s pretty awesome.”

Valerie Bahige picks up an American flag that was resting at his seat in the Campbell County Courthouse prior to the start of his Naturalization Ceremony on May 7.

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In-person visitation may soon return to the Legacy
Facility should know soon if it’s gone at least 2 weeks without a positive COVID test

In-person visitation may soon return to the Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center.

Campbell County Health is 20 test results from being able to return in-person visitation privileges and resident activities to the long-term care facility since implementing tighter restrictions last month.

If those results come back negative for COVID-19, communal dining and group activities for residents can immediately resume, while visitation could return within 12 hours of confirmation of the last negative test, said Dane Joslyn, CCH spokesperson, via email.

CCH expects to know the results by Monday.

If all tests come back negative and visitation resumes, visits will not need to be scheduled in advance and will have no time limits, but visitors will still need to be screened and inside the facility by 5 p.m., Joslyn said.

COVID-19 testing will only be done if a resident is symptomatic or if there is another positive COVID-19 case associated with the facility.

A positive COVID-19 test result associated with the facility was found on April 21, putting a freeze on in-person visitation. Since then, weekly testing of residents and employees associated with the facility has been conducted, with a two-week stretch of no new cases needed to end the restrictions.

On April 28, two more COVID-19 tests came back positive, resetting the two-week lockdown.

Dating back to April 21, none of the positive COVID-19 tests were of residents, Joslyn said.

It is unclear exactly when the last remaining test results will return.

Projected budget down about 20% for fiscal year 2021-22

In March 2020, the city of Gillette was not sure how much COVID-19 and a prolonged energy downturn would affect the city’s budget.

More than a year later, sales and use tax revenues have mostly been down and the city is again budgeting conservatively for the upcoming fiscal year.

The city’s proposed budget for next year is about $118 million, about 19% less than the fiscal year 2020-21 adjusted budget of $146.4 million.

It’s a lean budget, “but that is what we need to have” with the current sales tax projections, Mayor Louise Carter-King said Wednesday.

General fund revenues are projected to be $31 million, about $1.2 million less than this fiscal year, $32.2 million. The decrease can be attributed to declining tax revenues, and lower federal grant funding and interest from investments.

The city anticipates another drop in sales and use tax revenues, from $17 million to $16.7 million. The $16.7 million is a 29.5% decrease from 2019-20 when it was $23.7 million.

It’s always concerning to see a drop in sales tax collections, said councilman Shay Lundvall, adding that the city needs to work within its means.

About 66% of the city’s general fund revenues are tied to taxes. Sales and use tax make up 82% of the city’s total tax revenues.

“Until the state of Wyoming changes the taxing structure to allow municipalities to become less reliant on this volatile source, the city of Gillette should build every budget conservatively and with caution, including only the minimum requirements to operate the city,” said Finance Director Michelle Henderson in her budget message to the council.

There is one piece of good news — the city’s reserves are in decent shape.

Gillette has 150 days cash on hand. In other words, it has enough money to cover about five months of expenses should it not receive another dime.

The minimum the city should have in its reserves is about $12.5 million, but it keeps a little more in there just in case emergencies come up, Henderson said.

Not filling vacancies

Under the current proposal, the Gillette Police Department’s budget would decrease about 5% from about $8 million in 2020-21 to $7.7 million next year.

A majority of the decrease can be attributed to the city not filling four vacant positions, said Police Chief Chuck Deaton.

The department has 79 employees, 53 who are sworn and 26 non-sworn employees.

Carter-King said she was not surprised to hear the police department is short-handed since it has been operating with less than a full staff for a while. The department has been able to operate well with its current staff, but if Deaton would to come to the City Council asking for money to hire more officers, it would listen.

A couple of increases

Not all agencies could see a decrease next fiscal year.

The City Council has given the go-ahead to put back about $250,000 in the special projects line item for 2021-22 that was previously cut. The money would be the city’s match as part of a Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant that would go toward helping the city build picnic shelters and add parking spaces to the west side of the Energy Capital Sports Complex.

If the city kept the money for the grant out of the budget, then it would have to give it back to the federal government, Henderson said.

The $250,000 brings the allocation to the special projects line item to about $3 million. The special projects section also includes about $925,000 that would go to Cam-plex and $170,000 for outside agencies like Energy Capital Economic Development.

The Gillette Animal Shelter may see about a 9% increase in its budget, from $292,028 in fiscal year 2020-21 to $317,837 next year. Deaton said the increase can mainly be attributed to a need to replace the controls on the shelter’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning roof units.

The council will have three readings on the budget beginning June 1, and if approved will go into effect July 1.