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Customers at Wyoming Downs in 2020 play the machines that lined the walls and floors. The business as well as other off-track betting sites in Gillette have been shut down since May as lawsuits continue over a county decision that forced them to close.

OTB location opening in Gillette next week as lawsuits over horse racing continue

Next week, Gillette will have off-track betting for the first time in months.

307 Horse Racing will open up an OTB location with historic horse racing machines at Boot Hill Nightclub on Friday. Jack and Randy Greer of 307 Horse Racing bought the business from Terry Brown. The building’s basement has been remodeled and will host the historic horse racing machines.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Timothy Karas pens his name on a petition following the closure of Wyoming Downs due to new gambling regulations formed with the addition of 307 Horse Racing back in May.

Jack Greer said the grand opening will be Friday.

It’s been almost four months since Gillette had off-track betting. Two Wyoming Downs locations and the Horse Palace, owned by Wyoming Horse Racing, closed down May 22, one month after Campbell County commissioners passed a resolution that gives the live horse racing operator control over off-track betting and simulcasting in the county.

Lawsuits have been filed over the decision, and a judge decided against halting the order from going into effect.

Among the opponents of the county’s decision was the city of Gillette, which along with the county had been receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in income from the bets placed in the off-track facilities. In those four months, it’s estimated the city would have received $280,000.

307 Horse Racing has an exclusive contract to run live horse races at Cam-plex through 2026, meaning that because of the commission’s resolution, it is the only operator that can do off-track betting in Campbell County until that contract expires. The resolution does allow for agreements to be made between operators, but no agreement has been reached so far.

While the contract allowed Gillette to experience 16 days of live horse races this year, that doesn’t end the lawsuits that have been filed, nor the controversy, nor the questions about how the commission’s decision was made.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Timothy Karas pens his name on a petition following the closure of Wyoming Downs due to new gambling regulations formed with the addition of 307 Horse Racing back in May.

‘I suggest patience’

On April 20, the commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution that gave only one operator control over both the live horse racing and all betting afterward that happens in the community. But some of the commissioners had reservations about it, and the county attorney advised the board to take a “hands-off approach” on the issue.

On more than one occasion, County Attorney Mitch Damsky recommended the commissioners not pass the resolution until more work had been done to get all of the horse racing operators together to arrive at a solution that all of them could live with, according to emails reviewed by the News Record through a public records request.

On April 7, Damsky wrote to the commissioners, saying, “I suggest patience and that we have a hands off approach right now to see if they (the operators) can reach mutually beneficial terms.”

A meeting with Wyoming Downs, 307 Horse Racing and Wyoming Horse Racing had been scheduled for April 26.

On April 9, Commissioner Colleen Faber wrote to the county attorney’s office, saying she wanted to get the resolution on the April 20 agenda “so we could move on from this.”

“It doesn’t appear that the participants are very willing, and I was thinking we are just forcing a known outcome,” she wrote, adding that she believed the commissioners “need to pass this resolution” regardless of how the meeting with the operators turned out.

She asked if it was possible to move the meeting ahead to take place before the April 20 meeting. It did not happen, and it took place six days after the commissioners’ meeting.

Faber has been researching the issue since the fall of 2020, when Wyoming Downs asked commissioners to approve a resolution allowing for the company to put historic horse racing machines in bars around the county.

The commissioners rejected the resolution in October. At the time, Faber said she didn’t want to get ahead of the Wyoming Gaming Commission on the issue. She also worried that the resolution would not allow for an equal playing field.

The night before the April 20 meeting, Damsky emailed commissioners, saying the meeting would be “a great opportunity” to gather information and listen to all of the involved parties. But he asked them to hold off on approving the resolution.

Damsky advised commissioners to not take action on the resolution and table it to gather more information.

Faber pushed ahead with an issue that she had been researching for several months leading up to the commission’s formal decision on April 20. Both Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing have complained that they weren’t notified that the resolution would be discussed at the meeting.

The agenda was posted online less than 24 hours before the start of the meeting. Wyoming Downs was not able to have anyone representing them attend the meeting.

Faber and Commissioner Rusty Bell declined to comment for this article, citing the pending litigation.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

A sign encourages those who have points and vouchers to cash in to stop by Wyoming Downs days after the establishment had to cease all on-site betting.

How did we get here?

Wyoming laws state that “no simulcasting may be conducted within 100 miles of any premises” where live horse racing happens. 307 Horse Racing took this to mean that it has full rights to any OTBs in Campbell County year-round. The Wyoming Attorney General and the Wyoming Gaming Commission said those rights only apply on the 16 days that live horse races take place.

After hearing from the AG and the Gaming Commission, 307 went to the county commissioners, who sided with them to support live horse racing in Campbell County.

It’s led to three separate lawsuits so far. In May, Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs filed an injunction against the resolution and asked for a declaratory judgment. And in June, Wyoming Horse Racing sued 307 Horse Racing, accusing the Greers of colluding with Cam-plex to interfere with Wyoming Horse Racing’s contract with Cam-plex.

All of these cases have been assigned to District Judge F. Scott Peasley, who is in Douglas in the 8th Judicial District. Peasley denied a motion to delay the enactment of the resolution.

Peasley’s law clerk, Shayla Fosmo, said Peasley hasn’t had any hearings on any of these in the last few months, and nothing has been scheduled for them in the near future.

During the 2021 legislative session, a bill was submitted that would have abolished the 100-mile radius rule.

Faber emailed representatives telling them to vote no on House Bill 125. That bill failed in the House on a 23-37 vote.

In an email to Rep. Eric Barlow of Gillette in early March, she said Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs have no incentive to negotiate with 307 Horse Racing “regarding revenue from their machines going to support the live horse racing, and with little room in the market for 307 machines — it’s putting the live horse racing at Cam-plex in a tight spot.”

“It’s hard for 307 to get the revenue since the market in Campbell County has been taken up with the two operators, and they have trouble generating revenue to support the live races at Cam-plex,” Faber wrote.

With help from the county attorney’s office, Faber drafted a resolution for the county commission to consider at the April 20 meeting. Its purpose was to ensure that an operator could have off-track betting locations only if that operator also was putting on live horse racing.

On April 13, Commissioner Del Shelstad wrote that having the resolution in place would give the commissioners “our best chance for success in having meeting between all parties and reaching an agreement.”

On the other hand, some of the commissioners wanted to wait a bit.

Commissioner Rusty Bell had several concerns about the resolution that he thought should be resolved before it was put to a vote.

“If passing the resolution is the only thing that will get them to the table, then so be it. I’m ready to have that discussion, but I will take your advice on what that timeline is,” Bell wrote to Damsky. “I do believe the resolution is good for Campbell County, but really think the parties involved should have drafted it together.”

On April 8, Bell emailed Commission Chairman Bob Maul about the resolution.

“Although I don’t think it is terrible, I think it raises a lot of questions still. Our advise (sic) from Mr. Damsky seemed to be that we should hold off and wait and see if the parties can come to some agreement,” he wrote.

The way the resolution was written “has county commissioners driving the whole issue,” he said.

“This resolution would have us picking the winner, being that one that has the live racing contract,” Bell wrote. “They hold all the cards, as if they are not given whatever they want, the OTB (simulcast) sites are not allowed if there is no agreement.”

The contract with Cam-plex says that 307 Horse Racing “shall remain the exclusive provider, operator and licensee for Wyoming Pari-Mutuel flat track horse racing events at Cam-plex. No other Wyoming Pari-Mutuel flat track horse racing providers will be solicited, promoted, or booked during contracted years.”

In May, District Judge F. Scott Peasley denied a motion to delay the enactment of the resolution. Faber testified during that hearing, and she told Peasley she didn’t “understand it (the contract) was exclusive until that (April 20) meeting.”

Peasley said the fact that Faber “didn’t know they had an exclusive contract,” along with the fact that the resolution does not name a specific horse racing operator, made the resolution, on its face, neutral. That factored into Peasley’s decision.

Eugene Joyce, president of Wyoming Horse Racing, said it doesn’t matter whether Faber knew about the exclusive contract five months before the vote or five minutes before. She and the other commissioners should not have voted for it once they knew it was exclusive.

Bell also wrote that he didn’t “understand the rush or the time frame of this whole thing.”

“For a resolution like this, it would be nice if the parties were already on board and had an agreement,” he said.

“I agree that we would prefer they work this out between the Gaming Commission and the three racing groups. As long as they can all play together,” Maul wrote in a reply to Bell.

Cash rules

As those remain closed, both the city and the county are missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars. State statute requires historic horse racing operators to pay 1% of the total amount wagered to the city and county where the machines are located.

In both 2019 and 2020, Gillette bet the second highest amount on historic horse racing in the state, trailing only Cheyenne.

In 2020, both the city and the county each received close to $600,000 from historic horse racing. That was despite the pandemic and despite all locations being shut down for a month and a half. In 2019, the two entities got about $700,000 each.

From 2016-20, Gillette and Campbell County each received nearly $2.2 million.

And through the first six months of 2021, the city and county each received $362,095 — $248,151 from Wyoming Downs’ two locations and $113,944 from Wyoming Horse Racing.

Wyoming Downs estimated that the city and county are losing out on $70,000 every month that the three OTBs remain closed. That comes out to $280,000 so far that the two entities are not receiving.

The state is missing out on $70,000 a month as well, and the Breeders’ Fund is missing out on $56,000 a month.

With 307 Horse Racing’s OTB location opening soon, the city and county will start getting some tax revenue, but it likely won’t be at the same level as before.

Wyoming Downs has reopened its two Gillette locations, but only to sell alcohol and to gather signatures for a petition asking the commissioners to rescind the resolution. The petition has received between 500 and 600 signatures.

The historic horse racing machines remain shut down.

Officials for Wyoming Downs declined to comment for this article.

At the April 20 meeting, which was heavily attended by supporters of 307 Horse Racing, along with a few people who were opposed, Bell said that “it’s really clear where the residents of Campbell County are on this,” and the people have to be willing to “accept the consequences,” whether they’re good or bad.

“We’re going to accept the wins and the losses with that,” he said.

The day of the summit, April 26, Matt Micheli, an attorney for Wyoming Horse Racing, emailed Bell, saying that Wyoming Horse Racing would still like to meet with the commissioners, Cam-plex staff and the land board “and walk through exactly what happened.”

“I fear that the resolution has put us on a course that is not good for anyone,” Micheli wrote to Bell.

Joyce said that since he shut down his Gillette location, the Horse Palace, in May, Wyoming Horse Racing’s revenue is down 20%, and more than a dozen employees have lost their jobs.

A simple solution would’ve been for 307 Horse Racing to allow the OTBs to continue to operate “right up until the time they opened up their OTB,” Joyce said Tuesday.

“What the industry history tells you is any time you open an additional OTB in a market, the overall market grows,” he said.

No agreement was reached during the April 26 meeting. On May 5, Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs filed two lawsuits against the commissioners.

It remains in the court’s hands to decide who’s right in this case. Joyce said he’s not giving up on Campbell County yet, and that if given the chance, “I’d come back and race in Campbell County in a heartbeat.”

He claimed 307 “tried to portray me as the big bad wolf” for not running live races in 2020. He said he raced for five years in Campbell County and spent $3.5 million on the events.

“Just because I wasn’t born and raised in Campbell County is no reason to discount all the positive economic impact my company has had,” he said.

307 Horse Racing represents “an existential threat to myself and Wyoming Downs, and we’re not going to take this lying down,” he added.

Joyce said he doesn’t hold a grudge against this community, just a handful of people, including a couple of county commissioners.

“They said it wasn’t to benefit one company, yet they knew — all of them — prior to voting, that 307 Horse Racing had a five-year exclusive contract with the Cam-plex,” he said.

mmoore / News Record Photo/Mike Moore 

Randy Greer works with a horse outside his home at sunrise last October. Randy, son Gage Greer and Josh Allison have 307 Horse Racing, which brought horse racing back to Morningside Park this year, but also caused places like Wyoming Downs to close their doors within the community.

307 Horse Racing is free to expand wherever it chooses, but Joyce said he doesn’t believe “other counties are crazy enough” to follow in Campbell County’s footsteps.

“If they think they’re going to convince other counties to do what Campbell County did, they’re sadly mistaken, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to let that happen,” he said.

“I’ve lost a couple battles in my life but I’ve never lost a war, and I’m not going to lose this one. I’ve worked too damn hard.”

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CCSD raises substitute teacher pay by $35 per day

The Campbell County School District has increased its pay rate for its substitute teachers by $35 a day.

The increase will only apply to this school year, Larry Reznicek, the district’s human resources manager, said this week.

There are multiple types of substitute teachers in the district, and all will benefit from the increased rates.

A standard substitute teacher will now make $150 a day, up from $115. A substitute nurse will make $170 a day, up from $135. A substitute at a school that has longer school days and alternative calendars, like Westwood High School, Wright Junior-Senior High School, Cottonwood Elementary, 4-J Elementary and Recluse School, will make $170, up from $135. Long-term substitute teachers will make $190 a day.

The increased pay will be paid for by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR II) funds that came to the district as part of the the second round of Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CARES II), which President Donald Trump signed into law in December.

“We’re hoping this will help to build our substitute pool,” Reznicek said. “We have a busy fall with activities, Mallo Camp, and increased staff development due to us delaying some things last year. And with the limited labor pool in Gillette, we feel this is a good use of these grant funds.”

The district now has about 194 substitute teachers who were offered contracts and returned those to the district, Reznicek said. While that may sound like a large number, he stressed that the nature of substitute teaching is limited.

“Many of those choose not to work every day,” Reznicek said. “They can specify where, when and what subjects. I know several teachers that will only teach at one school. Or some people only want to teach music.”

COVID-19 is obviously a concern when it comes to staffing for the district, and the ongoing pandemic threatens to further deplete the substitute teacher pool.

Last year, Reznicek said, substitute teachers filled in for 720 COVID-19-related absences and were instrumental in the district being able to provide uninterrupted in-person learning.

COVID-19 continues to present challenges for the district. As of Wednesday, 34 staff members had tesedt positive for COVID-19, split evenly between educational support personnel (ESP) and certified staff.

Reznicek said that building up a substitute teacher pool is a challenge every year.

The district is offering two classes, one in September and one in October, to provide those enrolled an alternative path to certification as a substitute teacher.

“This is my 20th year, and this is nothing new,” Reznicek said. “We rebuild our sub pool every year. We have to. Part of that is we take a lot of our substitutes and they end up being some of our best aides and that’s their way of getting teaching jobs. They sub and people see how good they are.”

Kristi Gabriel kisses husband Andy Gabriel on the cheek in the couple’s backyard in Gillette on Tuesday afternoon. Kristi recently recovered from a near-death experience with COVID-19, where she had a 1% chance of survival earlier this year.

Runners depart the starting line during Thursday evening’s Memory of the 8 run along 4J Road. The run commemorates eight University of Wyoming cross-country runners who were killed on Sept. 16, 2001, including Gillette’s Morgan McLeland.