CASPER, Wyo. — The Casper City Council decided against granting a bar and grill liquor license to Wyoming Downs during their Tuesday, August 3 meeting. Wyoming Downs had been seeking the bar and grill license for 1121 Wilkins Circle, the former location of Sidelines Bar & Grill.
Wyoming Downs is a business which operates live horse betting and electronic gaming machines at a number of locations across the state. Eric Nelson with Wyoming Downs told the city council that the company plans to offer horse racing terminals, pool tables, darts and an upstairs lounge for online sports wagering at the former Sidelines facility.
The company has signed a contract with BetMGM to offer mobile sports wagering, taking advantage of a new law that will take effect on September 1 that will legalize online sports wagering and fantasy sports contests in Wyoming. The new law will open a market that the Wyoming Gaming Commission estimates could be around $449 million.
Nelson told the city council that Wyoming Downs operates 15 “off-track betting” facilities in Wyoming and generates millions of dollars in tax revenues for the state. He said that Wyoming Downs is anticipating generating about $125,000 in tax revenues per year through the new sports wagering lounger the company plans to operate at the former Sidelines location.
With a bar and grill license, he said Wyoming Downs expected that tax revenue figure would jump to $400,000. Nelson said the new facility is expected to generate about 10 new jobs in Casper.
He said the tax revenue estimates are based on figures from the facility Wyoming Downs operates at the former Applebee’s location in Evansville.
Nelson said that Wyoming Downs plans to offer food such as hot dogs and chicken wings at the new facility. While there will be cocktail waiters bringing drinks to customers at gaming machines, he said Wyoming Downs also wants to operate a bar. He said customers “like to take a break and come up to the bar.”
Mayor Steve Freel asked Nelson whether Wyoming Downs has a kitchen up and running in the former Sidelines space. Nelson said that it is not yet up and running, but should be within the next two weeks.
When it came time to vote on whether to grant Wyoming Downs a bar and grill license, Council member Bruce Knell said that the council should reject the request.
“People go there to gamble,” Knell said. “There are cocktail waitresses. This in my opinion would be a waste of a license. A restaurant license will serve them every bit as good. Their revenue will not change.”
“It would behoove us to hang onto that last one for when it may really be needed.”
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the City of Casper had two available bar and grill licenses that could be offered to businesses. The council voted in favor of giving one of those licenses to the Spotlight Lounge on Tuesday. The council voted 0-7 to reject Wyoming Downs’s request for a bar and grill license. Council member Amber Pollock abstained from the vote. Council member Khrystyn Lutz was absent.
Council member Shawn Johnson said on Tuesday that he thinks the state’s liquor laws are “archaic.”
“I don’t know that they have really changed much since prohibition was repealed, honestly.,” he said.
Johnson said he thinks that with the number of bar and grill licenses limited by a population formula set by Wyoming law, it is “unfortunate that we have to be put in situations like this.” Under Wyoming law, towns with 15,001 to 27,500 people are allowed four bar and grill licenses with an additional bar and grill license for each additional 7,500 people.
Johnson said that he thinks the difference between bar and grill licenses and restaurant liquor licenses are over “trivial things.” Restaurant liquor licenses are not limited based on population in Wyoming. Both restaurant and bar and grill liquor licenses require businesses to have a 60%-40% split in terms of food versus alcohol sales.
The primary difference between the license types is that the bar and grill license allows the business to operate a bar and pour drinks directly in front of customers. That is not allowed under restaurant liquor licenses, though the legislature adopted changes this year that do away with a requirement that restaurants have a separate, enclosed pouring room. However, restaurants still have to pour drinks in a designated pouring area not accessible to customers.
Johnson said that he thinks the law in Wyoming puts people “in a tough spot” competing for the limited licenses, and encourages people to get involved in state-level politics to get reforms enacted.