Arapahos behind anti-gambling effort
By Daniel Bendtsen
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — Advertising reports made with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office have revealed the Northern Arapaho Tribe as the only funder behind the Wyoming Public Policy Center, an advocacy group that popped up at the end of 2018 to lobby against the expansion of gambling in the state.
The filing also lists Northern Arapaho Business Council co-chairman Al Addison as the group’s primary “association representative.”
The filings reveal the tribe’s casino has donated $80,500 to the groups since the end of 2018. Lobbyists for the group reported $61,000 in expenditures.
With $36 million in total gambling revenues in 2018, the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s three casinos, led by the Wind River Hotel & Casino outside Riverton, have become the tribe’s chief economic engine in the last decade.
The Northern Arapaho remain the only tribe in the U.S. to operate a gambling operation without a statewide gaming compact, which shares some revenues with the state.
Since the lobbying group was created, the Wyoming Public Policy Center has focused on killing legislation that would create off-reservation competition to the Wind River Hotel & Casino.
During the 2019 legislative session and subsequent interim discussions, the lobbying group had successfully hidden its backers until Monday.
The group has mostly ignored the efforts of legislators and reporters to reveal the identity of the group that’s bought thousands of dollars worth of Facebook ads in the past seven months.
In January, a spokesman for the group did respond to an email from the Laramie Boomerang, saying that the “organization was created by private citizens to maintain a watchful eye on Cheyenne in order to oppose any expansion of the size and scope of government.”
However, the new filings reveal that the organization has been propelled by its government-run gambling operation that’s been masquerading as a libertarian advocacy group interested only in small government. The group also created advertisements that include messages such as “gambling destroys families.”
The tribe’s slot machines provide about 85% of its casino revenue.
During the 2019 legislative session, the Wyoming Public Policy Center largely focused on getting a bill killed that would have legalized a type of slot machine, called “video skill games.”
Video skill games had become popular around the state before former Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael issued an opinion stating that video skill games are illegal slot machines, re-establishing a monopoly for Wyoming’s two tribes.
“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 in a December statement.
After that opinion was released, the Laramie Police Department said that businesses in Laramie with skill games would have to get rid of them or face citations.
Lt. Gwen Smith of the LPD said she doesn’t often see scenarios where something that was established became illegal, and law enforcement wanted to give businesses with the machines time to comply.
The Wind River Casino had 851 slot machines as of April, according to an outside evaluation of the casino conducted by Spectrum Gaming Group. Each new machine costs $20,000.
At the end of January, the tribal-backed Wyoming Public Policy Center released a “white paper” warning about the “true impact” of video skill games.
“Studies show that taxpayers in localities that introduce gambling can typically expect to spend around $3 to address increased addiction, crime and bankruptcy for every $1 in revenue to the state,” the lobbying group said in that paper.
The group has also occasionally used pro-gambling messages, urging Wyomingites to oppose the creation of a gaming commission to “stop the government from crashing your Friday night poker game.”
In recent weeks, the group has again ramped up efforts in fights over legislative proposals, like the work of the Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee that’s studying the expansion of state gambling operations.