Montana Sports Betting Bill Gaining Momentum

  • Montana has traditionally had a relaxed approach to gambling
  • While it is a small state, a significant portion of its tax revenue comes from gambling sources
  • Three sports betting bills are progressing through the legislature
  • However, the current legislative session ends on May 1
Montana currently has three sports betting legalization bills progressing through the legislature.
Montana currently has three sports betting legalization bills progressing through the legislature.

Gambling in Montana

Montana has always taken a relaxed approach to its gambling laws. The state is generally fairly free flowing in terms of what its residents legally can and cannot do.

While Montana has one of the lowest populations in the country – just over a million – it still has almost 300 gambling facilities. Most of these are in the form of video gambling machines in restaurants and bars. They are a significant revenue source for the state government, generating about $60m each year.

The other main form of gambling is the state lottery. It has one of the smallest lottery intakes in the country, with annual ticket sales only being around the $60m mark. Despite this, the state government earns around $14m a year in tax revenue.

There are no commercial casinos in Montana, but there are currently six tribal facilities in operation. The state also offers horse racing betting, poker and charity gaming.

As a result of the grandfather rule, Montana does have a restrictive form of sports betting on offer. This is due to the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which brought in the federal ban on sports betting.

Montana, Oregon, Nevada and Delaware are subject to the grandfather rule. The only type of sports betting allowable in Montana under the rule is for racing and fantasy football.

Now lawmakers are pushing for full legalization of sports betting.

Potential for legal sports betting

As there is already a form of sports betting in Montana, it is a logical step to offer full-blown sports betting. It could bring jobs to the region, as well as increasing tax revenues and eliminating funds that are going towards criminal enterprises through the black market for sports betting.

However, some operators have overestimated the amount of tax revenue sports betting can generate simply from retail means. This is why four of the six states that offer fully legal sports betting have been struggling to get near their tax revenue forecasts to date.

However, for such a small state, even relatively small increases in tax revenue can go a long way.

Sports betting bills in motion

Three separate sports betting bills are progressing through the legislature in Montana. This would see wide-scale legal sports betting. However, the legislative session comes to an end on May 1.

The House has given approval for two of these bills, meaning they will now be put in front of the Senate. One of the bills has gotten approval from the Senate and is now waiting for approval on the next level.

All of these bills take a different approach on the regulation of a sports betting sector.

Details of these bills

The Montana Sports Betting Act (Senate Bill 330) would legalizd online and retail sports betting. Players would have to register for an account in-person initially at a given facility.For operators, a license would cost a mere $1,000. 

The bill was given three readings in the Senate before it got approval following a vote that was 36 in favor and 14 in opposition. It will have a hearing at the business and labor committee in the House on April 5.

The Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act (House Bill 725) wants the Montana Lottery to be the only operator for sports betting in Montana. This would permit offline and online sports betting.

This bill is now in the upper house after it got approval in the House following a vote of 88 in support and 10 in opposition to this measure. Two members abstained from the vote. This will go to a hearing on April 10 in the Senate business, labour and economic affairs committee. This will be heard at the same time as the third bill.

House Bill 475 only wants to legalize pari-mutuel betting, with the regulator being the Montana Board of Horse Racing. This also strongly won favor following a vote.

With only a matter of weeks before the ending of the legislative session, it will be a race against time for one of these bills to get full approval from the legislature.