GILLETTE — Since May, the historic horse racing machines at the Gillette locations of Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs have been shut down, but they could soon be up and running again after a judge’s decision earlier this month.
District Judge F. Scott Peasley granted their motion to stay, or delay the enactment of, a resolution that Campbell County Commissioners had passed in April that gives the live horse racing operator control over off-track betting and simulcasting in the county.
Since 307 Horse Racing has an exclusive five-year contract with Cam-plex to do live horse racing, it was the only operator that could have off-track betting under the resolution.
The resolution has led to three separate lawsuits, all of which are pending.
On May 7, Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs filed a motion asking the court to delay the enactment of the resolution. The two have accused the commissioners of overstepping their authority to allow 307 Horse Racing to be the only operator in town.
Attorneys representing the county commissioners filed a motion to dismiss. The commissioners’ motion was denied on Oct. 27.
Having listened to and read arguments from both sides, Peasley decided on Nov. 18 the resolution should be stayed, “pending further order of this court.” This means it has no power as long as the litigation is pending, and that Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing can offer off-track betting again.
“The Petitioners have shown possible irreparable injury through the revocation of the prior resolutions, and the court finds that they have also shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits,” Peasley wrote.
He still has to determine whether the commissioners’ passage of the resolution and revoking prior resolutions “was arbitrary, capricious or ‘in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority or limitations.’”
Until then, the commission’s resolution is powerless.
On May 22, the three off-track betting locations in Gillette owned by Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs closed their doors. This fall, 307 Horse Racing opened up its first off-track betting site at Boot Hill Nightclub.
Wyoming Downs estimates that the city, county and state of Wyoming are each missing out on $70,000 every month that the off-track betting sites are closed. Bets that are placed at the sites are subjected to state and local taxes, which contribute to local governmental revenue streams.
Peasley’s recent decision is quite different from the one he made in May, when he denied a motion for a preliminary injunction against the commissioners’ resolution. At that time, he said that based on the limited evidence presented, he couldn’t say the commissioners “did not have the right to pass the resolution.”
By state law, commissioners have the authority to approve off-track betting in their county. Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing have argued that the commissioners overstepped their authority when they passed the resolution.
There is nothing in the resolution that specifically prohibits Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing from off-track betting, Peasley wrote, and it is, on its face, a neutral resolution that doesn’t single out any companies. However, the resolution imposes specific conditions for simulcasting.
“The court can find no such authority in Title 11 (of Wyoming statute) to restrict the operations in the manner prescribed in the resolution, and the court finds such restrictions and limitations akin to regulating parimutuel activities — a power beyond the limited authority that Commissioners derive from the applicable statutes,” Peasley wrote.
By passing that resolution, commissioners revoked previous resolutions that had allowed off-track betting to happen.
“It is clear that Resolution No. 2077 and the revocation of the prior resolutions has harmed the petitioners by eliminating their ability to conduct the parimutuel events and the loss of employees,” Peasley wrote.
There also was no evidence to show that a stay would “have catastrophic effects or would somehow be detrimental to the public interest,” Peasley wrote.
This decision comes a few weeks after Peasley denied the commission’s motion to dismiss the petition for a stay. He wrote that the resolution’s passage “effectively eliminated” Wyoming Downs and Wyoming Horse Racing’s ability to do business, and there is “a justiciable controversy.”
“It is clear the Resolution ... revoked prior resolutions” on pari-mutuel wagering, he wrote.
Peasley found that Wyoming Horse Racing and Wyoming Downs “have stated a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that this court has jurisdiction to consider this appeal.”
The two sides will continue to argue in court their positions while the stay is in effect.