It’s official. Montana is first to the finish line in 2019 to send legal sports betting bills to the governor for signature. On Thursday, the Senate approved both SB 330 — HB 725 was passed Wednesday — and both will go to Governor Steve Bullock, who is expected to sign at least one of them.
“I think it’s a bold move for the state,” Senate president and bill sponsor Mark Blasdel (R-District 4) told Sports Handle.
Said lottery bill sponsor Representative Ryan Lynch (D-District 76), “I think in 2019, Montana is just next to join the states that legalize.”
Bills have bi-partisan support
Montana lawmakers initially sent three bills through the state legislature, but a bill that would have allowed for parimutuel sports betting never got a second reading, and effectively died on the Senate floor. The two bills headed for the governor’s desk are Blasdel’s SB 330, which would have the state Department of Justice (attorney general’s office) as the regulator, and Representative Ryan Lynch’s HB 725, a lottery bill.
SB 330 passed by a 33-17 vote on Thursday. HB 725 passed, 34-16, on Wednesday.
Blasdel and Lynch (D-District 76) have been working together to get their bills passed, each shepherding the other’s through their respective chambers and supporting each other’s bills with the governor. The bills have bi-partisan support.
“It was a lot of work,” said Blasdel, who pre-filed the original version of SB 330 in December. “It’s tough because we’re a pretty limited gambling state, and there’s been a pretty major push this session with a lot of gambling bills, so I think there has been some fatigue by the end of the session.”
Bullock will have 10 days to sign or veto. If he does neither, the bills automatically become law. Blasdel does harbor some concern that Bullock will sign only the lottery bill because some politicians believe that lottery run sports betting is more lucrative for a state.
“Obviously, I think he leans toward the lottery version, but we’ve been pointing to the lottery getting a pretty good head start on us, and I’ve shown him data that shows that there is a benefit to having both options,” Blasdel said.
Limited mobile, and sports betting at kiosks
Should Bullock sign both bills, sports betting in Montana could launch within six months via the lottery bill, but it would look a lot different than in more populous states. The sports betting bills were backed by the powerful Montana Tavern Association with the idea that kiosks could be placed in its members establishments, thereby driving business in the door.
I'm no political expert, but it looks like both of Montana's sports-betting bills will head to the Governor's office.
— Slim Kimmel (@SlimKimmel) April 18, 2019
Sports betting in Montana will primarily be conducted via kiosks that would be placed throughout the state, and both attorney general-regulated and lottery sports betting kiosks could be placed in the same establishment, allowing consumers to compare lines and choose which operator they want to bet with.
In addition to that, Blasdel’s bill allows for an “open” marketplace, meaning that different companies can hire different partners. Golden Entertainment, which runs gaming at taverns in Montana, already has a deal with William Hill, and sources suggest that Century Gaming may be close to a deal with MGM.
“The conversation I’ve always had with Mark (Blasdel), is that they lottery is saying they have the best product, and the vendors say they have the best,” Lynch said. “So it will be interesting to see what happens.”
Both bills allow for limited mobile, similar to Mississippi’s on-site mobile setup. In Montana’s case, patrons could bet on their phones as long as they within range of a kiosk and can pick up the signal. Establishments would be geofenced.
In terms of timing, Blasdel’s bill calls for sports betting to start in June 2020, allowing the attorney general’s office time to develop regulations, and operators to negotiate deals. The delayed start is also designed to give the legislature a chance to come back and tweak the new law in a timely fashion — Montana’s legislature meets every other year, so a June 2020 start would allow operators six months to determine any key issues and bring them back to an active legislature in January 2021.
As is the case in most states, the lottery is promising a six-month rollout. The lottery would use Intralot, its current vendor, to run sports betting. The Athens, Greece-based lottery and sports betting supplier is working to bolster its U.S. presence. In 2018, the company inked a 10-year, $340 million deal with the Illinois State Lottery.
It has lost contracts in Ohio and South Carolina, SBC Americas reported, but earlier this year picked up — through some controversial legislative maneuvering and a dubious study– a sole-source contract to operate the Washington D.C. lottery’s mobile sports betting app, which is expected to be ready in early 2020 with a possibility for late 2019.