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Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

Commission awards funds to foster awareness, promote treatment options for problem gambling

The Board of Weston County Commissioners has awarded the News Letter Journal a bid to educate the public about gambling addiction and make people aware of available treatment options. The proposal was for the use of state funds supplied to the county specifically for the purpose of addressing the issues associated with problem gambling. The commissioners had considered two proposals over the course of three meetings — one from the News Letter Journal and the other from the 21 Wellness Coalition — before choosing the one submitted by the newspaper.

The bid was awarded on a 3-2 vote on March 5, with Commissioners Vera Huber and Garrett Borton voting for and Commissioners Nathan Todd and Ed Wagoner voting against. Chairman Don Taylor broke the tie by voting in favor of the proposal submitted by the NLJ.

The commissioners were first made aware of the funds almost a year earlier, via a letter sent on March 9, 2023 from Angela Van Houten, Community Health Section chief with the Wyoming Department of Health.

“Pursuant to Wyoming Statute 9-2-104, the Wyoming Department of Health is in receipt of $600,000 received from the Wyoming Gaming Commission. This funding represents $300,000 from state fiscal years 2022 and 2023,” the letter states. “Pursuant to statute, this funding is to be distributed to counties for the purpose of funding county health programs to prevent and treat problematic gambling behavior. The WHD has determined the amount available to each county based on 2021 population estimates of individuals 18 years and older.”

Weston County’s allotment, according to the acceptance letter, is $7,246.31 for the two fiscal years, and the county will have the ability to continually accept these funds moving forward, as they will be allotted annually for continued awareness, treatment and prevention.

However, the topic first came before the board on February 6 of this year when both News Letter Journal publisher Bob Bonnar and Kristi Lipp, the prevention specialist with 21 Wellness Coalition, appeared before the board to discuss the funding.

Bonnar had prepared a proposal for the funding, reporting that he had first reached out to Lipp about the funding in March of 2023, the same time the commissioners were made aware of the funds. Lipp told him at the time that she was waiting to hear what the county commissioners planned to do with the funds, but indicated she would “keep him posted” when Bonnar said he was interested in putting a proposal together. When nearly a year had passed, and he heard nothing further about the problem gambling funds allotted to the county, Bonnar prepared a proposal and reached out to Taylor, which led to the submission of his proposal at the February 6 meeting.

Bonnar prepared a six-month advertising campaign to raise public awareness of available gambling addiction services. The package includes 13 print ads in the News Letter Journal (one every other week) and a six-month “discounted digital upgrade” that rotates a series of advertisements on the newspaper’s website, in addition to displaying them on the NLJ’s social media, weekly newsletter and Youtube Channel. Lipp suggested that non-traditional media, like coasters, were also effective, and Bonnar agreed to design and order 1,000 of them to be distributed in the community at no additional cost.

The total cost of the News Letter Journal’s proposal is $9,069.25, but Bonnar discounted the price with a donation of nearly $2,000 to bring the total to $7,246.31 — the amount of state funds provided to the county.

In response to the NLJ proposal, Lipp said that she did not have an agenda for the funds, but suggested that the county involve more stakeholders in the discussion, whether that was through 21 Wellness or not.

“My two cents on the whole thing is there is no black or white way of how the money should or should not be spent,” Lipp said. “My thought, like any funds the county gets through grant dollars or prevention funds, is there should be a group of people to facilitate a conversation of how funds are spent.”


Lipp also reported at the time that the deadline to expend the funds was June 30, although she later admitted, on Feb. 20, that this was not true and there was no deadline to expend the funds.

Following that initial discussion, the board voted to have Lipp and 21 Wellness come up with their own proposal for spending the funds, and to present that proposal to the board at the commissioner’s next meeting.

On Feb. 13, Lipp held a meeting that included Andrea Gregory with the Wyoming Department of Corrections Probation and Parole, Brittany Trandahl with the Weston County Gazette, Nick Trandahl representing 21 Wellness Coalition and the town of Upton, and Brea Terry and Shawn Humberson with Volunteers of America. Bonnar and Commissioner Todd also attended.

The result of Lipp’s meeting was a proposal brought before the board on Feb. 20. Lipp was unable to attend, so Commissioner Todd presented the proposal on her behalf.

The group determined, according to the proposal, that a multifaceted approach was best because the funds “are to be distributed to the counties for the purpose of funding county health programs to prevent and treat problematic gambling behavior.”

“Because the group felt strongly that the treatment side of problem gambling needs to be addressed with these funds, as well as the prevention side, this approach will address prevention through education for the citizens of Weston County via media and learning opportunities and treatment through education of local treatment providers and professionals,” the proposal states.

A breakdown shows that $725 was for lunch-and-learn events hosted by 21 Wellness and $800 for training by the Wyoming Council on Problem Gambling. There was $5,496 set aside for media in the 21 Wellness Proposal, with $720 designated for KASL, $2,500 for the News Letter Journal and $2,500 for the Weston County Gazette.

Bonnar, however, asked the commission to support the News Letter Journal’s proposal. He encouraged them to acknowledge the value of the discounts and donation provided by the newspaper, as well as the professional qualifications and marketing knowledge of the NLJ staff. He also said the newspaper had long been a leader in mental health advocacy in the community, and argued that the services available to struggling community members were under-marketed and virtually unknown.

“This is an opportunity to market mental health advocacy and addiction support in Weston County, which is not happening on any level right now. There are far too few people in Weston County who know that VOA, FOCUS or 21 Wellness even exist, let alone what services they offer,” Bonnar said. “This is an opportunity to put their contact information and links in the advertisements.”

Huber moved to table a decision on who to award the bid to until the next meeting, saying it would give the commissioners time to consider both proposals. Despite some objections from Todd, the motion to table was carried, and the discussion resumed on March 5, when Lipp came before the board to answer any questions about her proposal.

When asked about how comfortable she was with her proposal and how the funds would be dispersed, Lipp said that because of the wording of the statute, she feels the funding needed to include a treatment piece.

“The point of that money is to help people that are struggling with gambling,” she said.

Lipp said she felt like her proposal was a starting point and that it starts with education and builds from there. She mentioned the possibility that vouchers could someday be used to help individuals pay for treatment, but admitted that it was not included in her proposal.

“We are not completely worked out on these things, which then delays the process for people that need the help now,” Taylor said of a voucher system, noting that a voucher system may be considered in the future.

When asked by Taylor what Lipp would do now if someone asked for help, she said she would direct them to the VOA or the state’s Problem Gambling Association.

“Those are the two things I am going to do,” Lipp said.

Lipp’s proposal garnered ample support from both Todd and Wagoner, with both appreciating the multi-faceted approach, but Huber expressed the opinion that she admitted, “probably won’t be very popular.”

“I understand what Kristi is saying but from what I’m hearing… they are not quite ready to do some of those things quite yet. We have to start with education out of the gate,” she said before expressing support instead for Bonnar’s proposal.

After a brief discussion, Borton moved to approve the News Letter Journal proposal, with Huber seconding the motion.

“My thought is this is a continual project. I would like to see it continue to improve,” Taylor said, when breaking the tie in favor of the NLJ proposal.

Editor’s note: To view the commissioner’s discussions in their entirety, please go to the News Letter Journal’s Youtube page. The discussion in the Feb. 6 meeting begins at the 55:30 mark. There are two discussions at the Feb. 20 meeting — the first at the 1:53:50 mark and the second at 2:49:30. The final conversation is at the March 5 meeting, and it begins at the 47:00 minute mark. You can see both proposals in their entirety as attachments to this story on

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