The Big Sky State just joined the list of jurisdictions where sports betting has been legalized, following the Governor of Montana’s decision to sign one of two pending bills into law. Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat, put pen to paper last Friday and signed off on the Montana sports betting bill.
The Governor has now officially ushered in a new era of sports betting regulation for Montana’s residents and visitors.
As one of three states exempted by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 – a federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in May of last year – Montana had previously allowed parlay-style sports wagers via its state lottery.
But following the lead of fellow PASPA-exempt state Delaware – which became the first state other than Nevada to offer legal single-game sports betting last June – lawmakers in Montana took advantage of the Court’s PASPA repeal by calling for full-fledged sportsbooks. Following the fall of PASPA, seven states – Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island – have gone live with legal wagering via brick and mortar and/or online bet shops.
Bullock isn’t the only Governor considering sports betting legislation either, as Eric Holcomb of Indiana signed his state’s bill today, and Kim Reynolds of Iowa has until May 27 to make her decision.
Bullock signed off on House Bill 725, a bill introduced in November of last year by state representative Ryan Lynch (D-76). HB-725 was one of two sports betting bills sent to the Governor’s desk, along with Senate Bill 330, which Bullock ultimately elected to veto.
After learning his bill had received final approval, Lynch issued a statement celebrating Montana’s decision to embrace legal sports betting:
“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.”
Under HB-725, bettors aged 18 and up would be permitted to place sports wagers within any of the state’s 10 licensed tribal casinos, in more than 100 taverns and restaurants where video gaming terminals (VGTs) are already in operation, and through online / mobile apps offered by licensed entities.
By choosing HB-725 over SB-330, Bullock put Montana sports betting on the path toward a single-operator model.
In this case, the state lottery’s exclusive vendor Intralot – a Greek company which has operated online and kiosk ticket sales for the Montana State Lottery since 2015 – received a seven-year contract to run sports betting across the state.
The vetoed SB-330 would’ve set up a competitive model in which multiple third-party operators would apply to become licensed sports betting operators. In a letter explaining his veto to legislators, Bullock outlined his motivations for choosing the single-operator model:
“I have spent a great deal of time considering the pros and cons of both systems. Ultimately, however, the Lottery model makes more sense for Montana.
Under the Lottery model in HB 725, the state will have the ability to control, monitor, and protect sports wagering products and players through security and integrity protocols, policies around responsible gaming, and policies to ensure that sports wagering is competitive, transparent, and reliable.
Like the private model, the Lottery model protects the taxpayer from risk. But the Lottery model builds on existing infrastructure and is projected to return significantly more revenue to taxpayers.”
Neil Peterson – who serves as executive director of the Gaming Industry Association of Montana – told the Great Falls Tribune that Bullock’s preference for a lottery monopoly was a mistake:
“We’re hopeful that the Legislature will take another look at the private model. We think that’s where sports betting ought to be positioned, not as a government-run operation.”
Montana Senate President Mark Blasdel (R-4), who sponsored SB-330, told his colleagues during preliminary hearings on both Montana sports betting bills that a lottery-exclusive model would leave bettors with a lack of options:
“If the lottery version is the only game in town, people who aren’t satisfied with that product will have nowhere else to turn. With both models in place, the sports bettor will have more options to choose from and it will keep the odds more in check.”
A sports bettor is a different type of gambler. They look at the odds, and if the odds are not realistic then they’ll search for other avenues to place their bets.”