2013 Look Back: More than 2 decades in the making, Wyoming joins list of lottery states

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Risk-takers from Wyoming crossed the Colorado border with hopes of becoming rich in mid-December.

The jackpot for the Mega Millions lottery game was nearing $400 million.

Residents from Cheyenne, Casper, Rawlins and Rock Springs, among other cities and town, funneled into the Borderline Cantina to buy tickets.

“We had a busy morning,” store manager Karen Martin said recently.

The Borderline Cantina and one other convenience store sit a few miles south of the Wyoming border on U.S. Highway 85.

The stores sell more lottery tickets than any other vendor in Colorado.

That may change in 2014.

For years Wyoming lawmakers lamented the lost revenues that hopeful border crossers pumped into the Colorado economy by purchasing lottery tickets. But with the passage of the Wyoming Lottery bill in February, lawmakers and lottery officials are hoping to steer the lost revenues into the coffers of the Cowboy State when tickets begin to sell in mid-2014.

Wyoming will sell its own draw games and participate in the multistate Powerball and Mega Millions games.

It won't sell scratch-off tickets.

The new lottery is expected to take a toll on Colorado Lottery sales. Some Wyomingites who currently travel south to play the lottery have pledged their allegiance to the Borderline Cantina, Martin said.

“We’re not sure how it’s going to affect us yet," she said.

State officials are hopeful the lottery will raise about $20 million per year. A guaranteed $6 million of the earnings will funnel to local governments.

It was no easy task to implement the lottery in Wyoming.

Legislative attempts to establish one had proved fruitless since 1989.

But a bill pushed by Rep. David Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, passed the House by an eight-vote margin in February.

It passed by three votes in the Senate.

“There was a lot of scrambling and last-minute concessions to get it passed,” Zwonitzer said.

Gov. Matt Mead appointed a lottery board when the bill became law on July 1. The nine-person board began building the corporation days later. It’s a mix of marketing, media, legal, security, financial and business experts.

They secured a $1 million loan, hired a CEO, found office space, vetted gaming vendors and spent a lot of pro bono time doing work in addition to their day jobs. They didn’t spend one dollar of state funds to build the lottery.

“It is a full-time job on top of a full-time job,” board chairman Brian Scott Gamroth said.

Tennessee Lottery CEO Rebecca Hargrove gave board members a rude awakening when she visited them in July.

She told them they would need to have weekly meetings and phone conferences in the first months of development.

The board members’ jaws dropped.

Initially it was overwhelming, said Erin Taylor, a member of the Wyoming Lottery Board.

“But then the board broke it down into a timeline,” she said. “It was week by week, then it became every few weeks, then every month.”

At the time no member knew anything about a lottery. But Hargrove and other lottery officials from around the nation gave them advice.

After months of meetings, teleconferences and trips around the state, board members built the lottery from the ground up. They picked former Oregon Lottery executive Jon Clontz as the Wyoming Lottery’s CEO.

The choice was a milestone for the board. It meant they could begin handing off duties to Clontz. It also meant they were one step closer to getting tickets into the hands of Wyomingites.

Clontz is a fastidious man who formerly served as an Army surveillance systems operator during the end of the Cold War. Before joining the Oregon Lottery he worked in the private sector and as an official for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington.

The big question he faced when coming on board with the Wyoming Lottery was: When will tickets start selling in Wyoming?

Clontz has made no promises about a launch date, but he has compiled a detailed implementation schedule through April.

He is in the process of choosing a lottery vendor, a company that will furnish convenience stores and other retailers with lottery tickets.

Three companies are vying to do business with Wyoming, one of the last states likely to launch a lottery. Clontz expects to choose a company by February.

Clontz recently selected the Cheyenne design firm Warehouse 21 to create a lottery logo.

He’s still searching for a Web designer to design the website.

As Clontz recently sat in his downtown Cheyenne office overlooking the Lincoln Theater and Elks 660 Lodge, he was upbeat about the timeline for getting the lottery off the ground.

“We’re three weeks ahead of schedule,” he said.