AP NEWS

Lawmakers hear bill to legalize sports gambling in Montana

March 19, 2019

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana legislative committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill to legalize betting on college and professional sporting events as long as it’s done in bars with full liquor licenses.

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mark Blasdel of Kalispell follows a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows states to legalize sports gambling.

Eight states have sports betting while legislatures in at least 22 other states were considering it, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Supporters told the Montana Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs committee that passing the bill would allow the state to legalize, regulate and tax activity that is already happening.

The computerized wagering would be run by sports book companies that install equipment in bars. The bill calls for bars to receive 5 percent of the net sportsbook income derived from the premises while operators would pay an 8.5 percent state tax on adjusted gross betting receipts.

The committee did not vote on the bill which was drafted in consultation with the state Department of Justice, companies that provide gambling machines to casinos, and the Montana Tavern Association.

If passed, it would not take effect until June 2020, giving the state time to write rules and taverns time to install and test machines, Blaisdel said.

If problems arise, Blaisdel said, the Legislature would be back in session in six months and could address them.

No one spoke against the bill.

Ronda Wiggers, a lobbyist for companies that provide electronic gambling machines to bars, said allowing the activity only in bars would ensure people are of legal age to gamble. Others testified that the state would miss out on taxing what could be a much larger amount of app-based gambling.

“We would suggest that if you want to maximize revenue, allow mobile betting to happen on a statewide basis,” said Neil Peterson, executive director of the Gaming Industry of Montana. He also questioned whether it was affordable for small bars to set up the technology to ensure betting was occurring only in bars.

John Iverson, a lobbyist for the Montana Tavern Association, said adding sports betting won’t bring in a lot of money for bars, but people might stay longer and buy more food and drink. He also argued that low-cost technology is available to enforce in-bar betting.

In response to a question, Wiggers said phone-based apps used to make wagers allow users to set betting limits. Money would have to be deposited into a player’s account at a bar that offers sports wagering.

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