Montana may soon join the booming expansion of gaming across the United States. Lawmakers have introduced three bills that would legalize sports betting in Montana before the end of the year.
Two of the bills, all introduced in the past few weeks, came from the State House; one came from the State Senate. All three bills received widespread bipartisan support and were passed by the originating chamber onto its opposite body.
Gov. Steve Bullock has not stated publicly whether he supports legalized sports betting, but the Democratic governor is expected to sign any such approved bill.
One caveat: None of the bills would authorize wagers using mobile devices outside of licensed facilities. Such a restriction could limit how much revenue Montana would generate from legalized sports betting.
Legalized sports betting has flourished in New Jersey, largely because lawmakers in the Garden State passed a bill that made online gaming accessible. Potential bettors don’t have to pre-register in-person at a licensed gaming facility. An estimated 80 percent of the state’s total legal sports betting is generated via mobile.
That helped propel New Jersey past Nevada for the month of January as the state with the most revenue generated from legalized sports betting.
Conversely, in states where online gaming is restricted, or requires in-person registration at a licensed gaming facility, the revenue generated has often not met expectations.
When Rhode Island legalized sports betting in June, state officials projected $11.5 million in revenue would be generated via wagering on sports – even without offering mobile. But to date, Rhode Island is on pace to earn just $700,000 in revenue in its first 12 months.
New Jersey and Rhode Island are two of seven states that have opened legal operational sportsbooks since May, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. PASPA had prohibited legalized sports betting outside Nevada.
A ninth state, New York, also passed legislation legalizing sports betting and the first sportsbook in the state is expected to be operational by the fall.
Currently, only Nevada and New Jersey offer mobile gaming. West Virginia initially had online betting but that has been inoperational because of a temporary “interruption in service.” Pennsylvania is expected to launch its mobile platform this year.
Montana, in the coming weeks, is likely to become the ninth state with legalized sports betting. But specifics are being worked out as each of three bills offers varying options and restrictions.
Among the differences is which state agency would oversee legal sports betting in The Treasure State. One bill (SB 330) would task Montana’s Department of Justice to handle regulatory policies and procedures, another bill (HB 725) the state lottery, and the other (HB 475) the state’s horse racing regulatory body. The horse racing regulatory body would offer pari-mutuel bets on sporting events at one of three licensed race tracks in the state. HB 475 is considered the most restrictive of the three bills and the least likely to be voted into law.
Montana’s 2019 legislative session concludes May 1.