Montana Becomes Ninth State to Legalize Sports Betting

After weighing two sports betting bills that landed on his desk last week, Montana governor Steve Bullock has given the green light to H 725. This makes Montana the ninth in the US overall to legalize and regulate sports betting and the first this year.

The new law takes effect immediately and places the Montana Lottery in charge of regulating sports betting.

H 725 in a Nutshell 

  • Also known as the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act.
  • Montana Lottery is the sole operator of sports betting services in the state across all platforms.
  • Mobile sports betting is allowed and will be similar to the model adopted by Mississippi. Gamblers will be allowed to bet on their phones or mobile devices as long as they stay within the kiosk’s signal range.
  • Only vendors licensed by the Lottery will be allowed to offer sports betting.
  • Proposes to establish a state lottery and wagering commission.
  • The lottery will use the sports betting supplier Intralot to run its operation for the next few years.
  • Gambling establishments will be geofenced so as to limit betting to Montana-based players only.

Montana Sports Betting in Bars and Taverns

H 725 was backed heavily by the Montana Tavern Association since it allows licensed bars and restaurants to run sports betting kiosks and mobile applications. The bill ensures members of the association have a monopoly on legal sports betting.

Gamblers who want to bet on sports in Montana will need to walk through the doors of these establishments to play.

“Extra cheeseburgers, extra slices of pizza, a few more people filling seats,” noted the executive director of the association, John Iverson. “The actual revenue from the gaming isn’t going to be significant.”

What’s it Worth to Montana in Gambling Revenue?

Any revenue that comes in – no matter how little – will be state revenue Montana did not have beforehand. By 2023, analysts say Montana could see its sports betting industry bring in around $5.5 million in revenue a year.

In its first year, the state is counting on $3.7 million in revenue. Estimates say Montanans will wager around $65 million in the first year of legal sports betting with the expectation this number will rise to $87 million by 2023.

All revenue deriving from MT sports betting will be directed to the state treasury and a state scholarship fund along with other income from lottery products. Supports of the bill are ready to see sports betting get up and running as quickly as possible, so right now it looks like we will see implementation sooner rather than later.

HB 725 sponsor Rep. Ryan Lynch hopes the bill will become a reality by September, just in time for the start of the official football season.

“It’s a good day for Montana to be able to see sports betting in the marketplace,” Lynch told ESPN.com. “I think Montanans will enjoy the new aspect of watching sports for entertainment as well as betting on it.”

The Battle of Two Betting Bills

The run-up to Montana’s legal sports betting victory included a tight albeit friendly battle between two different proposals. While H 725 will be regulated by the Montana Lottery, it was proposed under SB 330 that the industry be regulated by the Attorney General’s office under the Department of Justice.

When both bills landed on the governor’s desk, Senate President (and sponsor of SB 330), Mark Blasdel told Sports Handle: “I think it’s a bold move for the state.”

Lynch and Blasdel worked together to get their bills passed through the legal channels and both bills had bipartisan support.

Blasdel noted it was a lot of work getting the two pieces of legislation to the governor’s table since Montana is “a pretty limited gambling state”.

Blasdel had hopes the Governor would sign both bills into law, although he knew from the outset his bill stood less of a chance. This is because politicians saw a lottery-run sports betting industry as more lucrative for Montana.  Nevertheless, he tried to show the Governor the benefit of having both options.

Had both bills passed, it would have created an open marketplace for sports betting operators. It would have allowed both AG-regulated kiosks and lottery-regulated kiosks to operate in the same venue, giving players the chance to choose between the two.

Why SB 330 was Vetoed

As noted, Governor Bullock vetoed SB 330 on the same day he signed in support of H 725.

In his veto letter, the Governor stated that a new market like Montana 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,” wrote Bullock. “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.”

Bullock said that, ultimately, the Lottery model “makes more sense” for the state. It would give the state the ability to control, monitor and protect sports betting products and players “through security and integrity protocols, policies around responsible gaming, and policies to ensure that sports wagering is competitive, transparent, and reliable.”

The Governor pointed out that both models protect the Montanan taxpayer from risk; however the Lottery model builds on existing infrastructure and it is believed that it will return more revenue to the taxpayer in the long run.

In the meantime, a third sports betting bill, HB 475, which would have brought pari-mutuel wagering to Montana, did not get a second reading and died on the Senate floor.

The Gaming Industry Association of Montana backed the AG-regulated bill and was sorry when it was vetoed.  MTGIA Executive Director Neil Peterson said he was hopeful that the Legislature would take another look at the private business model.

“We think that’s where sports betting ought to be positioned, not as a government-run operation,” Peterson told the Herald Tribune.