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Montana sports betting is officially live, becoming the 17th state open for legal sports bets. Initial bets, however, were offered at terrible, off-market prices.
The Montana Lottery had 10 teams installing terminals at the more than 100 licensed sales agents around the state beginning Wednesday. All those terminals should be installed by the end of the weekend, a lottery official said. Montana only allows sports betting at authorized retailers with on-site mobile.
Sports Bet Montana is operated by Intralot, the lottery’s current supplier. That was a point of contention within the legislature as the operations were turned over to Intralot without a public request for proposals.
The state’s decision could go down as a case study in why those RFPs are necessary. The lines posted at Sports Bet Montana‘s website are unlike most found in the US.
Intralot is the same controversial company at the heart of the DC sports betting mess. The District still has not launched its Intralot-backed mobile product after approving legal sports betting more than a year ago.
Intralot was the automatic operator of sports betting because of the terms of 2014’s RFP for lottery suppliers, Montana Lottery attorney Mike Manion explained to the joint State Administration and Veterans’ Affairs Committee last October.
The RFP included the right to operate any new lottery games. The vote that followed in committee to delay setting the rules, and therefore delay sports betting, failed in a tie.
A majority of Sports Bet Montana’s moneyline odds included worse odds for both sides compared with other US sportsbooks. (That’s before most of the events were canceled because of the coronavirus, of course.)
One of the most egregious examples included the Kansas Jayhawks and Oklahoma State Cowboys lines. Kansas was at -1,111 on the moneyline while Oklahoma State was at +310, prices wildly off-market on both sides. Spread bets were offered at similarly unattractive vig, with some as high as -135.
The Montana Grizzlies-Idaho State Bengals game, which could have been a popular game for the state, had similar odds with Montana at -1,111.
This could be a glimpse of what bettors in DC sports betting will see when the Intralot-powered mobile app launches.
That launch is now expected to be around the beginning of the MLB season at the end of March. The lottery’s app will be just one option as restaurants and stadiums that get sportsbook licenses can also offer localized mobile betting.
Like in Montana, not all of the DC Council were interested in giving Intralot a monopoly. But one man, former councilmember Jack Evans, helped get the deal pushed through thanks to his supporters.
A consulting firm with ties to Evans accepted money to lobby on behalf of Intralot over a long period of time. He eventually resigned earlier this year after the council unanimously voted to expel him over an unrelated FBI investigation.