When did Betting the Ponies and Playing the Slots Become the Same Thing?

In 2013, the state of Wyoming amended its gambling laws to permit horse racing tracks and taverns to install historical horse racing machines. To the naked eye, they are slot machines. However, historical horse races are incorporated into each outcome, adding an element of skill that traditional slots simply don’t have.

Before each spin of the reels, players are shown a list of horses from a historic race that took place years ago. Of course, the specific details of each race are not revealed to players. They won’t know the date that the race originally ran, nor the names of the horses taking part.

What players do have access to are the performance records of each horse, and the odds at which they pay out for winning. Based on that information, the player will choose what slot machine symbols to bet on (cherries, diamonds, gold bars, etc.). If the corresponding horse wins, those symbols will appear in a winning combination.

However, despite being the most popular form of wagering at tracks like Wyoming Downs and bringing in millions of additional dollars for the horse racing industry, all is not moonlight and roses in the Cowboy State. Race Tech, the vendor that develops the software for the gaming devices, began incorporated special bonus games into the historic horse race machines that some complained were based entirely upon chance.

historical horse racing or slot machines? Historical Horse Racing Machines at Wyoming Downs

When regulators looked into the way the bonus games were playing out, concerns were immediately raised as to the legality of the extra curricular gaming. Games of chance are strictly prohibited by Wyoming law (outside of the slot machines and table games found at the state’s three tribal casinos). Only games of skill are legal.

An investigation into the matter was conducted by the Wyoming Attorney General, who ruled last month that the outcomes of “bonus rounds” integrated into the historic horse racing machines were, in fact, reliant upon chance, not skill.

The Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission, which is responsible for regulating all legal forms of gambling in the state, issued a suspension order on October 8. The operation of all historical horse racing machines have been ceased until the industry brings them into full compliance with state law.

A special committee meeting was held on Friday featuring a representative from Race Tech. The spokesperson said the software update required to comply with the Attorney General’s report would take approximately 12-15 weeks to complete and install.

Eugene Joyce is the President of Wyoming Horse Racing LLC, the company that runs all of the state’s live racing facilities, and operates the historical horse racing machines. “It’s going to be really tough for all of our stakeholders: my employees, the cities and counties, the horsemen. We all take a financial hit,” said Joyce. “I don’t know any business that can stop operating [for 12-15 weeks] and still survive.”

Charles Moore, Executive Director of the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission, seemed to sympathize with the arguments of Joyce, but said the Commission had no other choice than to mandate a cessation of the gambling devices based on the AG’s report. “We are all looking at this as a long-term situation, and hopefully, with the permits moving swiftly to rectify the concerns and problems we see, we can get this back on track,” said Moore.

Cessation of Historical Horse Racing threatens Pari-Mutuel Industry

When historical horse racing machines were first authorized, the purpose was to resurrect the state’s live horse racing industry. There simply aren’t enough people who visit the tracks to bet on live races to keep the business afloat. In fact, the tracks were reliant upon simulcast betting just to make a profit, because live races alone lose money.

The goal was achieved with ease as the gambling devices immediately revitalized Wyoming’s pari-mutuel industry to levels never before seen in the state. This year, the industry has projected $11 million in revenue, with 91% of that coming from historical horse racing games. As Joyce explained, “There would be no live horse racing in Wyoming if not for historical horse racing.”

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