Montana lawmakers heard testimony about sports betting for the second consecutive week Tuesday morning, this time for HB 725, a bill that would not only make the Montana Lottery (Lottery) the regulator but the sole operator for sports betting. The House Committee on Business and Labor Affairs heard from four proponents of the bill and no opponents as well as representatives from the Lottery and the Gambling Control Administration.
The bill would legalize sports betting through the Lottery and allow kiosks to be placed at licensed businesses, including bars, restaurants, and potentially convenience stores, throughout the state. Introduced on Friday by Representative Ryan Lynch (D-District 76), the bill would allow for some internet and mobile sports betting, would create a sports wagering commission within the Lottery and would, as Montana State Lottery Director Angela Wong put it, allow the state “to receive all of the revenue (from sports betting) after expenses.” She also said the Lottery would be able to roll out sports betting within six months of approval.
The bill is one of a handful being considered in Montana. Last week, the Senate Business and Labor Committee heard testimony from operators, including William Hill, on SB 330, which would legalize sports betting in a similar manner, but the Lottery would not be the regulator. Late last week, the committee voted, 8-2, to send the bill to the Senate floor, but not date has been set for a vote.
— MS SportsBetting (@MsSportsbetting) March 24, 2019
A third bill generally revising gambling laws, SB 25, defining sports betting and interactive (internet and mobile) betting in the state, was signed by the governor last week. It sets the table for a more comprehensive sports betting bill.
Sports betting would ‘encourage’ business
On Tuesday, representatives from Intralot, Montana’s current lottery vendor, the Montana Tavern Association, the Montana Coin Machine Operators Association, and the Gaming Industry Association of Montana all testified in favor of HB 725. John Iverson, representing the Tavern Association, said his group supports all of the sports betting bills, but voiced his concern about the possibility that convenience stores would be able to offer sports betting.
“Sports betting is exciting … having one of these machines in our location would encourage people to come in and hopefully stay for the end of the game, and maybe order an extra cheeseburger or a Montana craft beer,” he said. “We think there should be clearer parameters about where these locations should be. Montanans don’t want this on every street corner, near every playground.”
Rhonda Wiggers from the Coin Machine Operators Association also voiced concern about allowing sports betting kiosks in convenience stores, and Neil Peterson from the Gaming Industry Association said his group supports the bill, but is concerned “that it does not exclude other places from having sports betting. That it does not make it just a lottery location” at which consumers could sports bet.
Montana sports betting would set up differently than sports betting in most other states. There are no casinos in the state and no movement to legalize casinos. The bills in question are strictly to legalize sports betting, and the idea would be to place kiosks — whether lottery or commercially owned — at specific locations throughout the state. The Tavern Association has been lobbying for those locations to be limited to restaurants and bars. But Lottery-run sports betting would likely also mean kiosks in convenience stores or other locations.
Stakeholders, lawmakers in general agreement
The Senate and House bills are similar, the key difference is that the Department of Justice would regulate sports betting under the Senate version vs. the Lottery in the House version. Stakeholders and lawmakers appear to be generally on the same page with regard to other details, including allowing betting on professional and college sports, not paying the pro leagues and “integrity fee,” and allowing at least some form of mobile/internet sports betting.
There appeared to be a bit of a disconnect in terms of lawmakers understanding how sports betting works on Tuesday, when one asked if consumers would be “sitting in front of kiosks in convenience stores.” The implication was that bettors would use the kiosk like a video poker machine and play at it. In reality, bettors would place bets at the kiosk, take their ticket (or card) and, as Iverson speculated, watch a game at a local eatery.
Wong said the lottery has more than 1,000 locations throughout the state, including about 300 in bars and restaurants.
Montana’s legislative session ends on April 20, and won’t meet again until 2021. With all the activity, it seems that legal sports betting could be a decent bet in 2019.