Green River Star -

By David Martin
Editor 

Battle looms over skill games

 

January 2, 2019



An opinion issued by the Wyoming Attorney General’s office has determined electronic terminals titled “Wyoming Skill Games” to be illegal, causing establishments in Green River to pull the plug on the popular games.

The office issued a press release two weeks ago regarding the legality of the games. The terminals utilize an interface which looks like a slot machine’s reels. A player pays the machine to spin the reels, then receives an opportunity to change the result to a more favorable combination.

According to the release, the office received requests from law enforcement agencies across the state regarding the games’ legality.

“With the cooperation of the device distributors, I have examined how they operate, Attorney General Peter K. Michael said in the release. “These machines are illegal gambling devices under Wyoming law. Those who play them are engaged in gambling, which is a crime in Wyoming, and those who provide the games are engaged in professional gambling, which is also a crime in Wyoming.”

Michael said because gambling is a crime and not a civil violation, local law enforcement and prosecutors will have to determine how and when they will respond in communities with the machines. Sweetwater County Attorney Daniel Erramouspe said he has reviewed the opinion and plans to meet with the heads of local law enforcement to discuss it.

“It is not my intention to do anything at this time regarding the game terminals in operation,” Erramouspe said.

According to Jamie Green, spokesperson for the Green River Police Department, Chief Tom Jarvie plans to have officers talk to local business owners about the attorney general’s opinion and take action on businesses that do not comply.

Mounting opposition

One local business plans to keep the games running as long as they can. Marlene Siler, the human resources manager at the Brewery, said the bar will continue hosting the terminals until forced to take them out. She doesn’t see the games as gambling, believing the machines host games of skill.

She also said the machines have documents posted next to them, showing how the terminals are legal under state law. Siler also believes the opinion comes from the state seeking revenue from profits made off the machines. She said the bar does profit form the terminals, but said the profit isn’t a large amount.

Many others have taken a similar approach to the issue.

According to the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle newspaper in Cheyenne, a lawsuit was filed by a group of organizations operating the machines, claiming the game design makes the outcome based on skill and exempts machines from the state’s gambling laws. The lawsuit, filed in Natrona County, also seeks an injunction to prevent enforcement of Michael’s opinion until an official ruling can take place. Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, said a bill regarding skill games is also being drafted. The bill has not been posted to the Wyoming Legislature’s website as of press time.

A historical perspective

Green River has benefited from gambling and other vices in the past, one of the biggest benefits coming in the form of land that expanded the city. Edward L. Taliaferro said in the June 20, 1979, issue of the Green River Star that land used for the Rancho, Liberty, Hutton Heights, Paxton Webb and Valley View subdivisions was purchased through taxes levied on gambling and prostitution. Taliaferro, who was mayor from 1943 to 1947, said the two vices flourished with the town’s economy during the World War II years, which resulted from the Green River Depot being ranked seventh in the nation for material shipped through.

“We charged the gambling out at $75 a table and $15 for slots. The girls had to pay $25 a month,” Taliaferro told the newspaper. “I guess some would call it a ‘fine’ every month. I made sure the money went to the town and not into somebody’s pocket. The land south of the river was paid for by community vice.”

Much of the gambling occurred at places like the Oxford Club and the Green House.

“Gambling wasn’t something that was advertised, but we know things were going on,” Brie Blasi, director of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum, said.

One of the slot machines Taliaferro mentioned is in the Sweetwater County Historical Museum’s collection and was once on display in its gallery.

Gambling in Green River goes back further than the World War II boom time. The June 8, 1906, issue of the Green River Star notes gambling brought the town $700 between June 5, 1905, and June 6, 1906. Adjusted for inflation, that $700 in 1906 amounts to $18,495.27.

 

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