On Friday, May 3, 2019, Governor Steve Bullock (D) of Montana affixed his signature to H 725, inaugurating his state into the ranks of those that have legalized sports betting. This new form of MT gambling will be run by the Montana Lottery in partnership with software provider Intralot.
It's important to note that the Montana Lottery will be responsible for not just overseeing but actually operating the new sports betting industry. This means that it will have a government monopoly on this activity rather than being one of a number of competitors or just an independent regulatory body.
One of the advantages of this system, as explained by Lottery Director Angela Wong, is that the state will get to keep all the revenue derived from sports betting after paying expenses. If outside sportsbooks were permitted to offer their services in Montana, then the most that the state could hope for would be a percentage of the total haul plus licensing fees.
This betting will be conducted at kiosks inside bars and restaurants. A spokesperson for the totally disinterested and objective Montana Tavern Association stated that the goal was not to necessarily gain substantial profits from the wagering itself but rather to entice patrons to remain on premises, making purchases, while awaiting the outcomes of sporting matches.
The Montana Lottery hopes to have betting on sports ready to go by September, in time for the new NFL season. Revenue projections range from $3.5 million to $6 million per year.
This law deals exclusively with bets on sports. There are no provisions for making Montana online poker legal, nor does any of the verbiage tackle the subject of casino gaming over the internet.
H 725 was introduced into the Montana House by Ryan Lynch on March 22, 2019. After various committee meetings and hearings were held, it was passed by the House on March 30 with a vote of 88-10. It was then sent to the Senate where it was OKed by a 34-16 majority on April 17.
After being enrolled and signed by the leaders of both houses, H 725 was transmitted to the governor on April 25. Governor Steve Bullock signed the bill into law on May 3.
Speaking of his bill, State Representative Ryan Lynch said:
It's a good day for Montana to be able to see sports betting in the marketplace. I think Montanans will enjoy the new aspect of watching sports for entertainment as well as betting on it.
Even as Governor Bullock affixed his signature to H 725, he vetoed a similar bill, S 330, that would have seen private companies allowed to obtain licensure and offer wagering on sports to their customers. S 330 called for a $1,000 per year licensing fee and 8.5% tax rate.
S 330 was introduced by State Senator Mark Blasdel. It passed through all the necessary legislative stages until it was presented to the governor on April 29. However, he vetoed it on May 3.
Blasdel and State Representative Ryan Lynch viewed each other's bills as complementary efforts and worked together to shepherd them through the political process.
In explicating his reasons for rejecting S 330 while approving H 275, Governor Bullock wrote in a letter to Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton:
I sincerely appreciate the work and consideration the legislature put into these two policy options. Sports betting is new to our state. As many legislators and stakeholders have observed, unfortunately, a new market like this cannot support sports wagering under both systems at once. For the market to succeed, Montana needs to enter the sports wagering market conservatively—adopting only one of the two models now. If, in two years, the market can tolerate more entrants, then I fully expect the legislature will revisit whether a second model is prudent for our state.
All hope isn't lost for the proponents of S 330 however. Under Montana law, any legislation that passed both houses by a two-thirds majority, like S 330 did, automatically goes through the veto-override process.
Because the legislative session has ended, this entails mailing ballots to lawmakers and then tabulating the results. Unfortunately, votes from senators and representatives who don't respond within 30 days are counted as negative, so this process is heavily weighted against overriding the governor's veto.
While legal sports betting was hard to find in the United States before 2018, that changed with the decision of the Supreme Court in Murphy v. NCAA. Before this, only four states were allowed to regulate sports betting, but the nation's highest legal tribunal ruled that this prohibition – contained within the PASPA law from 1992 – was unconstitutional.
As unusual as it may seem, Montana was one of the four states grandfathered in and permitted to host sports betting after the restrictive 1992 law was passed. However, this activity was limited to what existed in the state prior to 1992, which in Montana's case was betting squares pools at licensed retail establishments.
After the Murphy ruling, which allowed states to license fully legal sports wagering if they wished, a stampede of states rushed to take advantage of this new opportunity. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi already had statutes on the books authorizing sports betting in the event that the federal ban was removed, so they were almost ready to go out of the gate. Others, like Tennessee, wasted little time in passing the needed laws.
Given the narrow scope of the preexisting Montana sports squares contests, it's perfectly understandable that The Treasure State wishes to expand into traditional sports betting. H 725 presents it with the mechanisms for doing so.
Though Montana lacks commercial casinos, there's a plethora of other gambling available. Charitable games, like bingo and raffles, exist to benefit good causes. In addition, there are video gaming terminals in bars and restaurants as well as licensed card games, including poker. Finally, close to a dozen tribal casinos dot the MT landscape.
Somewhat surprisingly, the minimum gambling age in Montana is 18 across the entire spectrum of real money gaming possibilities. The new sports betting law also adheres to this 18-years-old-or-higher rule.
The Montana regulated betting economy will be dominated by just a single player, the Montana Lottery. With this lack of competition, we really don't foresee the eventual sports betting offerings to be anything special. Fortunately, you can head online and take your pick of the best offshore sportsbooks that do business with Montanans. There are no laws – at either the state or federal levels – that criminalize the act of betting on sports online.