Wyoming residents who dream of hitting the jackpot will no longer have to drive across state lines to buy lotto tickets under a proposal advancing in the Legislature that would take the Cowboy State off a very short list of those that don't offer a lottery.
Only seven states remain without such prize drawings, but a bill that passed a Wyoming state Senate committee Tuesday would change that, allowing a state lottery and participation in multi-state games, such as Powerball.
The measure now heads to a full Senate debate with supporters saying that Wyoming residents already play the lottery, going to neighboring states to get tickets and taking millions in potential revenue with them. Opponents say lotteries are a form of gambling and a tax that disproportionately affects the poor.
The measure has already cleared the state House.
The Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee voted 3-2 to endorse House Bill 77 and send the proposal to the full Senate where no one is quite sure about its odds of passing.
Under the legislation, lottery proceeds would go to local cities, towns and counties to spend however they wish, but the amount of money that would be raised isn't clear, with estimates varying widely.
Wyoming and Mississippi are the only states without lotteries where lawmakers are considering legislation this year that would change that, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
For Wyoming, just getting the lottery bill out of the initial chamber was an achievement.
"I believe it's the first time it's been out of the House since it was introduced in the late 1980s," said Rep. David Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne and the main sponsor of the bill. "It's gone down by three or four votes every session. So it's always been close."
Zwonitzer said the bill's success so far this session is an indication of the House membership changing in last year's election.
"We elect about a third of the House new every session, so as you get new members in you never know when you're going to hit that one that's going to push it over," he said.
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan and chairman of the Senate panel that endorsed the bill, said he's not sure how the proposal will fare in the Senate since it's never been debated there before.
"I've always been of the thought that it had a better chance in the Senate than it did in the House," Burns said. "I don't know."