With the smallest population of any U.S. state, Wyoming nevertheless packs in a fair amount of gambling opportunities on its almost-100,000 square miles. The aspiring gambler and/or Yellowstone Park tourist can find three swell Native American-operated casinos on reservation land in Fremont County, while another four locations offer simulcast horse racing.
As for football, well … like other such sparsely-populated states such as Alaska and Vermont, Wyoming doesn’t exactly have and long and extensive history with professional football, though the University of Wyoming Cowboys enjoyed about a half-century of high standing in the mountain west region.
Betting in Wyoming
Despite its reputation as an untamed bit of territory worked by farmers, cowboys and miners, Wyoming politically is an odd blend of progressiveness and temperance. As a result, betting games in Wyoming which were frowned upon in 1890, the first year of Wyoming statehood, are evermore easily found in the state.
How much frowning was going on in the early days of Wyoming state history? In 1901, Wyoming legislators passed the McGill Act, one of the country’s most restrictive gambling laws in the country, so as to cap a reported rush of illegal gaming activity throughout the state in the 1890s. One’s own conclusions may be drawn vis-à-vis the effectiveness of enforcing any such laws. Indeed, quite a few hotels in Wyoming, particularly in Teton County, hosted informal poker and card games. To this day, local newspapers may run retrospectives on the heyday of this form of bettubg in the 1950s and 60s.
Outwardly, the staunch story of moral conservatism ruled. While most states considered the legalization of at least pari-mutuel betting at horse tracks to help recover from the Great Depression in the 1930s, such proposals did not go far with Wyoming lawmakers. Pari-mutuel betting was legalized in Wyoming only in the 60s, and the Wyoming Downs opened in that decade.
Of course, Wyoming’s Native American population certainly took advantage of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988. The Eastern Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes in Fremont County opened three casinos in the 90s. Perhaps in an effort to keep pace with the Native American casinos in other parts of the state, Wyoming Downs introduced “historical horse-racing machines” in 2003. The controversial bet, according to Wyoming law, is that the machines pushed by Wyoming Downs had included a slot machine-based element of pure luck.
Thus, historical racing machines were illegalized in 2006, then re-legalized in’13, only to be – you guessed it – pulled again in ’15 and reinstated in ’16. With each return, Wyoming Downs authorities promise the luck factor is reduced. The legislative and legal backlash against historical racing machines is reflected to this day in Wyoming lawmakers’ attitudes toward daily fantasy sports betting.
Football in Wyoming
Reflective of its size, just 38 Wyoming-born players have appeared in an NFL game, beginning with RB Bullet Baker, who played with the New York football Yankees, Chicago Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Staten Island Stapletons (early NFL history is awesome) in the late 1920/early 30s. The list of 38 isn’t, sorry to say, particularly impressive: Pro Football Reference notes that statistically the top Wyoming-born NFL players of all time are WRs Boyd Dowler and Jack Snow.
If nothing else, the list demonstrates the importance of University of Wyoming football to the state’s sports fans: Through the 2017 season, some 78 former Cowboys have played NFL ball, a list headed by the likes of OG Conrad Dobler, RB Jim Kiick and TE Jay Novacek.
U. Wyoming first fielded a team for a single game in 1893 and, due to the distances involved, a team was assembled periodically only. From that inaugural game through 1908, the Cowboys played an average of right around three games a year, going 28-19-1 over that span. Wyoming Cowboys football history turns sour for much of the next four decades, and the team ultimately bottomed out as a program in 1946 after an eight-year “run” of a cumulative 7-34-4.
For 1947, though, Wyoming brought in 30-year-old Tennessee grad Bowden Wyatt to coach the team. In his first-ever post as head coach, the future College Football Hall of Famer brought the Cowboys to heretofore unthinkable heights: In 1949 and ’50, the team went a cumulative 19-1, took two Mountain States Conference titles and added their first-ever bowl win, a 24-14 victory over the Washington & Lee Generals in the 1951 Gator Bowl. The Cowboys finished that season ranked 12th in the (albeit highly controversial and flawed) final rankings for the 1950 season to set a new benchmark for Wyoming football.
Wyatt would be followed in the head coaching job by a couple of guys who’d run up even more impressive career marks at Wyoming: Phil Dickens’s Cowboys went 29-11-1 (.725) for four seasons in the mid-1950s, while Bob Devaney followed that with five seasons’ worth of 35-10-5 (.700) ball from his charges. When Devaney jumped to national powerhouse Nebraska in 1962, the Wyoming job had earned a reputation in the business as a stepping-stone position, but chasing Devaney was Wyoming’s longest-tenured coach to date, Lloyd Eaton.
Eaton got the Cowboys to arguably the team’s biggest game ever, the 1968 Sugar Bowl. How big was it? The audience of just under 79,000 was the equal of about one-quarter of the entire state of Wyoming’s population at the time. Unfortunately, the Cowboys chased a 10-0 season by bowing to the LSU Tigers essentially playing at home, 20-13. In Kiick’s final year with the Cowboys, Wyoming ended the season ranked no. 6, despite the loss to the unranked Tigers.
A mediocre decade of play in the 1970s and 80s ended in ’87, when another string of top-flight coaches headed up the Cowboys. In turn, Paul Roach, Joe Tiller and Dana Dimel lead Wyoming to a cumulative 86-57-1 in 13 seasons through 1999. The team played twice each in the Holiday Bowl and Copper Bowl to cap seasons, unfortunately losing all four.
From 2000, the U. Wyoming program has been, likesay, lacking. Going into the ’18 season, the Cowboys are on a “run” of 84-134, a sad .393 winning percentage. The Cowboys do get to postseason play perhaps well more frequently than they should. Most recently, the Cowboys beat the Central Michigan Chippewas, 37-14, in the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl after a 6-5 regular season.
Betting on Football in Wyoming
Remember back to the on-again/off-again status of historical racing games. Wyoming state law with regard to betting games is all about the element of chance. Simply put, you won’t see a roulette wheel or keno in Wyoming any time soon – probably not even at the Downs. Thus, any new form of gambling that is presented to Wyoming residents is put to the skill/chance litmus test.
Because state officials have already applied (and reapplied) the mathematical analysis known as a “predominance test” to historical racing machines, this test is said to be undergoing on DFS games. On the other hand, this may be something of a smokescreen as no preliminary report regarding early findings in testing nor has any DFS-specific legislation been introduced – this despite Wyoming officials having begun the predominance test as early as 2014 and certainly as one of the very first in the U.S. to do so.
Against this is the falling off of profit shown by nearly all other Wyoming gaming providers, possibly excepting one or two of the Native American-run casinos. In 2016, four of Wyoming’s eight OTB shops were closed for business.
What does all this mean for betting on football in Wyombing? NFLbets is thinking the state’s lawmakers are playing wait-and-see. As opposed to the very small potential markets for horse racing and racing-related video oddities, football betting is potentially huge in Wyoming, as is the potential for revenue on a scale this state has hardly seen due to its history, geography, etc. File Wyoming as another under “stay tuned.”