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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock could find two sports betting bills among the Easter eggs on his desk next week.
The House bill, which authorizes the Montana Lottery to operate sports betting, passed the Senate on second reading Tuesday by a vote of 32-18.
Senate President Mark Blasdel, who sponsors S 330, rose to speak in support of H 725 prior to Tuesday’s vote.
“Myself and the sponsor of this bill spoke about these bills before and we agreed that we think both should go forward,” Blasdel said. “I think competition creates opportunity as far as what products are out there, but it’s also better to keep it on an even playing field for the bettors and the taverns to have choices.
“I think this is just as good a product as the one that is in my bill, and so I’d like to see both of them go through.”
Montana legislative rules require a follow-up vote on third reading, generally a formality, which will occur Wednesday. Then it’s off to the governor’s desk.
The House passed an amended version of S 330 on Monday by a vote of 90-9. The Senate’s Montana sports betting bill gives licensed gambling operators in the state a choice of sportsbook partners.
Blasdel tells Legal Sports Report he approves of the House changes, and the Senate is expected to concur with the changes by the end of the week.
In Montana, gambling is incorporated into liquor licenses issued by the state. There are about a thousand bars, restaurants and taverns in the state offering video gaming terminals with slot-like play, video poker and keno, as well as lottery kiosks.
The minimum gambling age in Montana is 18, which would continue for sports betting. Each Montana sports betting bill allows for mobile and online play only within the confines of the gaming facility.
By passing both bills, legal sports betting kiosks run by the lottery and contracted sportsbooks could sit side-by-side, offering different types of betting.
Blasdel said three or four prominent companies expressed interest in running sportsbooks in Montana, including William Hill and MGM. Their machines would include a more complete array of sports betting options, including in-game wagering.
For sports betting, Blasdel indicated that odds on outcomes of single games would be similar to other models but the terminals would push parlay bets at longer odds to casual bettors interested in the possibility of turning a little money into a lot.
“If the lottery version is the only game in town, people who aren’t satisfied with that product will have nowhere else to turn,” Blasdel said. “With both models in place, the sports bettor will have more options to choose from and it will keep the odds more in check.”
“A sports bettor is a different type of gambler. They look at the odds, and if the odds are not realistic then they’ll search for other avenues to place their bets. The reality is there’s so much already happening on the black market, and if they don’t come into the light they’ll stay doing what they’re doing.”
Blasdel said he’s spoken with Bullock directly on the topic, and that the governor favors the lottery bill because it’s within his administration.
“We’re trying to get the governor to understand there’s opportunity for all of them here, and that will ultimately be better for the sports bettor and the state,” Blasdel said.
There is a third Montana bill involving sports betting, H 475, which would provide limited parimutuel-style sports wagering at horse tracks and off-track betting facilities. Blasdel explained that money bet would go into a pool and odds would rise or fall as if placing an exacta bet.
It is in the Senate after passing the House, and Blasdel indicated that he will support its passage.
A co-sponsor of S 330, Sen. Kenneth Bogner, tells LSR that he’s confident the governor will sign the bill after seeing the legislative support it is receiving.
“With these vote counts, I would think he’ll be fine with it,” Bogner said. “It got 90 votes in the House, so that’s pretty hard for the governor to veto.”