Sports Betting May Finally Be Headed to Montana

Montana is at the head of the wave of a number of states that have been mulling over the legalization of sports betting – the state has officially become the seventh state in the United States to legalize sports betting since the United States Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on the activity in May 2018. Steve Bullock, the state’s governor made the state the first to legalize sports betting this year by signing House Bill 725.

The bill will allow the state lottery to oversee a system of wagering through kiosks and mobile applications that could be running by fall. When that happens, Montana will be the ninth state with sports betting in the United States. The others include Nevada, New Jersey, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Mississippi, and New Mexico.

Not Every Bill Was So Lucky

Lawmakers in Montana actually forwarded two sports betting bills for the governor to sign last Friday. While House Bill 725 which gives the lottery full control over sports betting was signed into law by the governor, he chose to veto the accompanying SB 330 bill. This bill that was vetoed would have allowed for a free-market system in Montana which means that multiple sports betting facilities would be allowed to operate within the state’s borders.

Proponents of sports betting in Montana hoped that the governor would sign both bills into law since it would essentially create competition and thus force the gaming operators to stay on toes in as far as improving their offerings, product features, and prices.

“Sports betting is new to our state. As many legislators and stakeholders have observed, unfortunately, a new market like this cannot support sports wagering under both systems at once. For the market to succeed, Montana needs to enter the sports wagering market conservatively-adopting only one of the two models now. If in two years, the market can tolerate more entrants, then I fully expect the legislature will revisit whether a second model is prudent for our state,” the governor pointed out.

Governor Bullock further stated that after spending time considering the pros and cons of both bills, he ultimately found that House Bill 725 makes more sense for the state especially because it will allow the authorities and the gaming regulator to “control, monitor, and protect sports wagering products and players through security and integrity protocols, policies around responsible gaming, and policies to ensure that sports wagering is competitive, transparent, and reliable”.

While it is unfortunate that one of the bills did not get to see the light of day, it is comforting to know that depending on how the industry performs as per the terms of the bill that was passed, the option for allowing a free-market sports betting industry in the state is always on the table. Perhaps the stakeholders can start preparing for what is to come as the new law is effective immediately with an eye on getting everything up and running by the team the football season rolls around.