Several sports betting bills are working their way through the state government, marking Montana as possibly the next jurisdiction to legalize sports wagering on professional and collegiate games.
The bills are being considered after the Supreme Court struck down a federal law in May 2018 that made most sports gambling illegal. The majority of U.S. states are now in the midst of dealing with that new reality.
Montana lawmakers have taken a different approach to their counterparts towards legalizing sports betting. Rather than working the proposals of multiple bills into one, lawmakers have chosen instead to move three distinctly different bills — one each regulated by the lottery, attorney general and board of horse racing — toward legalization. So far, there appears to be little opposition to any of the bills.
While residents currently enjoy using top-ranked offshore sites like Bovada to bet on their favorite teams, it appears that land-based kiosks in the Treasure State may soon be posting odds for all the daily sporting events.
Betting Laws in Montana
More than one million people live in Montana, a western state defined by its diverse terrain ranging from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. Helena is the state capital, while Billings is its largest city with a population of more than 100,000 residents.
Gambling laws in Big Sky Country — whether it's playing poker or simulcast betting on thoroughbred racing — are regulated at the state level by the Gambling Control Division of the Montana Department of Justice.
All legalized gambling in Montana is limited to the following areas:
- Tribal casino gambling
- Pari-mutuel wagering
- Social gambling
- Charitable gambling
The legal age for gambling in Montana is 18 years old, with the exception of raffles conducted by churches, schools, charitable and non-profit organizations. Children under 18 may participate in these.
There are two types of casinos in Montana that offer electronic gaming machines and there are no Montana casinos with Vegas-style table games.
Montana law permits bars and taverns to have up to 20 video gaming devices that play video poker, video keno or video bingo. These machines are operated in partnership with the state.
The state has dozens of tribal casinos with an emphasis on slot machines, poker and electronic table games. These are spread out over 27 different cities, with new locations being added all the time.
Montana is home to one permanent racetrack, but there hasn't been any racing at Yellowstone Downs in almost a decade. There are two fair-type events held in May and July, but that is the extent of horse racing in this state.
Horse racing fans looking to bet on thoroughbred action from coast-to-coast in the U.S., including the Triple Crown races or Breeders Cup, can visit one of the many off-track betting sites located throughout the state.
The Montana Lottery was created by referendum in 1986. Since then, it has paid out more than $300 million in prize money.
The lottery offers scratch-off tickets, daily drawings and multi-state games like Powerball, Mega Millions and Hot Lotto.
The law requires that 74 per cent of the revenue wagered be returned to players in prizes. The remaining 26 per cent is shared between three state agencies — the Montana Sports Action, the Board of Horse Racing and the Montana Lottery.
Legal live games
Legal live games include raffles, bingo, keno, panguingue, poker and shake-a-day. Sports pools, fantasy sports leagues and sports tab games are also legal. These are non-banking games in which players bet against and settle with each other rather than betting against and settling with the house.
Montana Sports Betting Laws
Rep. Ryan Lynch, sponsor of a House sports betting bill that gives oversight to the Montana Lottery, told colleagues the key benefit of his proposal is that the state controls the lottery. Sports gambling, he said, would give the state-run agency one more product to offer customers.
“So, we’re the beneficiary of those revenues,” Lynch said. “But we also have control to make sure gaming is done responsibly.”
While Lynch's bill is just one of three sports betting proposals in Montana, significant changes could also be introduced to sway lawmakers in favor of one over another as deliberations continue through the 2019 legislative session.
Online gaming would also be allowed, according to one of the bills, although it would be restricted only to the establishments where gambling is permitted.
No one knows what the final details of the sports betting bill will look like in this state, but there has been little resistance to allowing sports wagering in Montana. Residents could be making their bets at kiosks that would be placed in bars, restaurants, convenience stores and other licensed venues just in time for the NFL season if the speedy approval process continues.
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Montana's Favorite Sports Teams
Montana — which borders Idaho to the west, Wyoming to the south and North Dakota to the east — does not have any professional sports teams. Neither do the bordering states.
The NFL's Seattle Seahawks, who won their first and only Super Bowl in 2013, are the closest pro team to the state of Montana. It takes about 13 hours to drive from Billings to Seattle to attend a Seahawks' game.
However, the most popular sport in the state may not be one of the Big Three — football, basketball or baseball. The Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals, which started in 1979, are held at Montana ExpoPark in Great Falls every January. The three-day competition determines the national circuit rodeo champions.