Legislation proposed to legalize sports gambling in Montana

(Editor’s note: Report by MTN’s John Riley)

HELENA – Proposed legislation was heard at the Capitol which would legalize sports gambling in the state of Montana.

On March 19 the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs Committee heard Senate Bill 330, the Montana Sports Betting Act.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, said sports betting in the state is already happening and needs to be regulated.

“This is already something that is happening with a lot of folks,” said Blasdel. “Unfortunately it’s in the black market now. This would set it up so you would have the Department of Justice overseeing it to try to track who’s operating these and collect some tax revenue off of it, as well.”

SB330 would require bettors to go through a state-authorized sportsbook operator or platform operator in order to make a sports bet.

Operators would need to be licensed through the Montana Department of Justice Gambling Control Division and would be under the same scrutiny as any vendor that currently offers gambling.

SB330 would only legalize betting on professional, collegiate and Olympic sports. Betting on high school or other unauthorized amateur sports would not be permitted.

Sports bets are allowed on mobile devices but can only be placed inside the premises of a licensed gambling activity within the state. Current language of the bill requires locations to employ geolocation technology to ensure the bets only happen in a licensed establishment.

While there were no direct opponents to SB330, some speakers at the hearing did express their concerns about the geolocation technology.

Lobbyists said the technology is too expensive and restrictive, arguing mobile sports betting should be allowed anywhere people have a phone.

John Iverson of the Montana Tavern Association stated sports betting needs to be kept to authorized locations. Iverson said by doing so it will help create economic opportunity for businesses.

“If you look at the total tax on this bill to the taverns, it’s not significant,” said Iverson. “If we pass this bill, it will give a boost in the arm to a lot of small towns across the state of Montana.”

Blasdel would also like to see sports betting stay in authorized gambling locations.

“Part of it is certainly the economic driver,” said Blasdel. “If not that, we want to make sure at least the bettors have to go in and put the money in their account in the taverns. That way you don’t have somebody sitting at home – they have to make that trip and can’t just keep betting.”

If SB330 does become law it would not take effect until June 1, 2020 to allow Gambling Control Division to be prepared for the new form of betting.

According to Gambling Control Division, before betting can take place staff will need to be trained on sports betting, sportsbook software will need to be tested and administrative rules will need to be drafted.

SB330 would create four new positions within Gambling Control Division. Those positions would be paid for by the taxes generated by statewide gambling.

Sports betting had previously been illegal nationwide until the United States Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3, overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act on May 14 of last year. That decision made it possible for individual states to create and regulate their own sports betting.

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