Montana Gaming

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Montana Not Considering Online Gambling Legislation

montana stateIf you would like to live in wide-open spaces, with plenty of fresh air and privacy, Montana is one of your best bets. The state, known to many as “Big Sky Country,” is the fourth largest in size, but the seventh least-populated in the U.S. That means that folks in Montana have plenty of elbow room to do as they wish, and like the residents in most other states, that probably includes a bit of gambling online. However, those Montana residents who do wager over the Internet are doing so illegally, as Montana is one of only a few states that implicitly forbids online gambling. The state’s lawmakers saw fit to approve legislation in 2005 prohibiting any kind of gambling over the Internet by making it illegal to use “communications technology” in order to “transmit to a computer information to assist in the placing of a bet or wager.”

Although recent events have caused other state legislatures to contemplate enacting online gambling laws, the Montana legislature has not formally discussed rewriting the current legislation to regulate online gambling. And there is no indication to believe that changes will be forthcoming any time soon. The state’s sparse population, as well as existing laws against online gambling, do not bode well for Montana residents who would like to gamble legally online. For the time being, Montanans will have to remain contented with the current forms of live gambling permissible in the state that include casual games of poker, bingo, keno, video poker, live raffles, sports betting, sports pools and sports tab games. Montana is one of only four states where sports betting is legal, already having such a statute on the books when Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992 in order to prohibit states from indulging in bookmaking.[1]

Not The Old West Anymore–Montana’s Limited History Of Gambling

Once part of the romanticized way of life known as the Old West, Montana no doubt had its share of saloons and establishments that catered to gamblers. But by 1889, the state’s brand new constitution had made every form of gambling illegal. This didn’t immediately shut down every saloon, as many kept quiet about ongoing gambling. But it was the start of a nationwide crackdown on gambling that was largely due to the scandalous outcomes of lotteries in some states.

montana gamblingBy 1910, every state in the West had outlawed gambling. That changed almost instantly when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. As bars and saloons opened hurriedly across the nation, the resurgence of gambling was inevitable. Four years later, the Montana legislature passed the Hickey Act, which made table games in certain locations legal as long as the county in which they were located approved. More legislation came in 1945, when the State Board of Equalization saw an opportunity to generate revenue by licensing what they called “trade stimulators,” better known as slot machines, and taxing them. Montana got serious in 1949 when the legislature spent $40,000 on the enforcement of gambling laws. A year later it was clear that that money was well spent in the eyes of the anti-gambling crowd, as the Montana Supreme Court ruled that slot machines and punch boards were illegal, and a statewide initiative to legalize gambling failed by a 4-1 vote.[2]

Times began to change, however, in 1972, when voters approved a referendum that gave the legislature the authority to allow or prohibit gambling. A year later, the Card Game, Bingo, Raffles, and Sports Pool Act was enacted. By 1976, the state Supreme Court legalized video keno. But for as much progress as the gambling industry had made in those 50 years since the end of Prohibition, Montana residents were still unsure if they wanted to welcome gambling. In 1983, voters shot down an initiative that would have created a Gaming Commission and a limited number of games that would have been permissible by county. The gambling downtrend continued into 1984 when the Supreme Court ruled video poker machines to be illegal slot machines, but the legislature passed the Video Poker Machine Act in 1985. The act allowed five poker machines per liquor license, as well as an unlimited number of keno machines. The new law also required license fees for the machines instead of taxation. Bar owners certainly took advantage of the law change. Montana issued 2,887 video poker machine licenses that same year, and residents played the games with fervor.[3] The Montana State Lottery was approved a year later. Since its creation, the Montana Lottery has generated $180 million to the state’s general fund.[4]

In 1994, negotiations began between the state and four tribal governments to enter into compacts that would allow gambling on tribal lands. Three of the four never reached agreements with the Montana government, and the fourth shut down after compact violations. But by 1997, the state entered a compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which operate Class II casinos today. Presently the state of Montana has compacts with five nations: the Assiniboine and Sioux Nations of the Fort Peck Reservation, the Chippewa Cree Nation of Rock Boy’s Reservation, the Crow Nation, the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Nations of the Fort Belknap Reservation, and the Northern Cheyenne Nation. All five of these tribes operate Class III gaming facilities. 3 4

Pari-mutuel wagering on horse races is also legal in Montana. The Montana Board of Horse Racing oversees all operations of the horse racing industry. Yellowstone Downs, located in Billings, opened in 1997 and has offered continuous horse racing action for Montanans. Unfortunately, the industry suffered a setback this year when track officials canceled the 2018 racing season in June, citing a lack of funding from the debt-ridden Montana Board of Horse Racing and a statewide late start on simulcast racing. Track owners do plan to return for racing dates in 2018.[5]

Montana A Huge Longshot To Enact Online Gambling Legislation

While other states are contemplating getting in the game of Internet gambling, Montana lawmakers seem content with not bringing the issue up for discussion. The state’s sparse population–less than 1 million–doesn’t appear to be as interested in the topic as residents of other states. Because of Montana’s beautiful scenery and mountain ranges, perhaps Montanans prefer the great outdoors over sitting in front of a computer. Legislators seem to recognize that any efforts to change or add online gambling regulations may be moot. As one of a handful of states with laws on the books forbidding online gambling, it looks as though Montana may be one of the last states to consider online gambling, if they do at all.


[1] Montana Poker Laws
[2] [3] The history of gambling Montana
[4] Where the proceeds from the Montana lottery goes to
[5] Yellowstone downs cancel 2018 racing session