Montana joined the wave of states legalizing sports betting in 2019, with the first sportsbooks launching in 2020.
When sports betting arrived in Montana, it came to a state already home to a variety of different types of legal gambling. Most notably, Montana allows establishments with liquor licenses to operate gambling machines. These machines feature video slots, poker, keno and the lottery. Such places can also spread live poker, and a couple of dozen do in fact host small poker rooms.
In other words, Montana’s law means the state technically has hundreds of licensed “casinos.” That said, most of these casinos are really bars or taverns with a few machines. Meanwhile, Montana is one of a few states that specifically outlaws daily fantasy sports. However, the Montana Lottery does run its own sports fantasy games that are somewhat similar to DFS.
The state’s new sports betting law is also somewhat distinctive. Montana permits online sports betting only, yet wagers have to be placed at authorized locations. It’s a hybrid, of sorts, between traditional retail sportsbooks and online-only sports betting. It’s also a monopoly, with the state-sponsored online sportsbook Sports Bet Montana the only game in town.
Read on for an overview of sports betting in Montana, including how it came to be, what options sports bettors enjoy in the state, and everything else you need to know when betting on sports in Big Sky Country.
As part of the Old West, gambling was not legal in Montana during the late 19th century and into the 20th, although many illegal gambling halls operated all over the state. By the 1930s some forms of gambling were allowed, though in 1950 the state’s citizens overwhelmingly voted against an initiative to make gambling legal.
Certain types of charitable gaming like bingo, raffles and sports pools became legal in the early 1970s. Video keno became legal shortly thereafter. By the 1980s lawmakers were debating both introducing a state lottery and whether to allow video poker machines.
In 1985, lawmakers passed the Video Poker Machine Act. The law allowed each establishment with a liquor license to have five video poker machines and an unlimited number of video keno machines. The next year the state issued nearly 3,000 video poker licenses. That was also the year the Montana Lottery was approved, with the first tickets sold in 1987.
In 1989 another law was passed that centralized all gambling regulation at the state level. Soon after that the limit on video gambling machines was set at 20 per liquor license. These machines allow patrons to play video poker, keno, slots and the lottery. Maximum payouts for the machines, for live poker games, and for the sports pools were all increased over subsequent years.
Such was the context in Montana when the US Supreme Court ruled in May 2018 that the federal prohibition against sports betting was unconstitutional. Almost exactly one year later, Gov. Steve Bullock signed a bill into law legalizing sports betting in the state.
The new law authorized the Montana Lottery to oversee sports betting in the state. In essence, the new legislation revised existing lottery laws to include sports wagering. Lawmakers titled the section of the law covering sports betting the “Montana State Lottery Act of 1985 and Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment of 2019.”
Meanwhile the governor vetoed a second bill that would have allowed the state’s bars and taverns to offer sports betting themselves.
After several months hammering out regulations and pinning down logistics, Montana took its first legal sports wagers in March 2020.
There are seven Native American tribes located in Montana. The state has compacts with all seven of them that allow the tribes to offer different types of gambling.
Montana currently has Class III gambling compacts with five tribes. That means those tribes are able to offer games like slots, roulette, craps, blackjack and poker. With the other two tribes, the state has negotiated Class II compacts that let them offer bingo games and slot-like games with spinning reels.
The largest tribal casinos in the state are the Gray Wolf Peak Casino in Missoula and the Glacier Little Peaks Casino in Browning. Each has more than 300 video gambling machines. There are also a number of smaller establishments run by the tribes that resemble the bar-and-tavern “casinos” located throughout the state.
All sports betting in Montana happens on the Sports Bet Montana app or website. In Montana, users can only place bets at Sports Bet Montana when physically located at licensed sales agents around the state.
Bettors can place wagers either at terminals (aka kiosks) located within the licensed establishments or on mobile devices while on the premises. The sportsbook operator is Intralot, with geolocation provided by GeoComply’s PinPoint technology.
When the state initially rolled this out in spring 2020, bettors could go to nearly 150 licensed locations to place wagers. Most of these are in bars, taverns or gas stations. Eventually, the plan is to have as many as 2,000 live throughout Montana.
Users can still access the Sports Bet Montana website when not physically located at a licensed retailer. That’s helpful, as they can create accounts, deposit and withdraw funds, and even select wagers and create betting slips. But in order to actually to place those bets, they’ll have to go to one of the licensed locations.
In practical terms, sports betting in Montana works a lot like the lottery does in most states that don’t allow online sales (including in Montana). Bettors have to go to certain locations to place their bets, just like those wishing to purchase lottery tickets have to visit retailers to do so.
Bets made at the terminals have a $250 maximum. But when using the app, the maximum for a bet is $1,000.
The tax rate on sports betting revenue is 8.5%. New retailer licenses cost $1,000 annually.
Since the Montana Lottery has total oversight over sports betting in the state, Sports Bet Montana is the only available option. That means other online sportsbooks like DraftKings, FanDuel or BetMGM cannot launch in the state. That situation could change in the future if lawmakers decide to look again at the possibility of expanding sports betting in the state.
As described above, sports bettors can place wagers only when physically located at a licensed retailer. In other words, while online sports betting is technically legal in Montana, it works much differently from, say, online sports betting in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. In Montana, online sports betting works a lot more like retail sports betting, given the requirement to be physically located at licensed retailers in order to place bets.
The Sports Bet Montana website provides links to download the sportsbook app for free. There is an app for iOS/Apple devices and another for Android devices. The app provides all of the same functionality, betting markets and banking options as the website.
Sports bettors have a number of sports from which to choose when making wagers at Sports Bet Montana. They can place wagers on both professional and collegiate sports. These include:
Some states do not allow wagers on collegiate teams located within the state. That isn’t the case in Montana, however, meaning bettors can bet on contests involving teams from Montana colleges and universities.
Sports Bet Montana offers a variety of wagering options, including the most popular ones among sports bettors. These include:
Sports Bet Montana offers another type of bet it calls a “banker bet.” It is a round robin bet with at least three selections. From those three, the bettor designates one or more of the wagers as “banker” bets. The designation makes that bet part of every single combination of bets, meaning if the banker bet loses, all combinations lose. Adding the banker bet to a regular round robin bet changes the amount of potential winnings for the bet.
Sports Bet Montana offers a couple of other options for bettors. These options concern instances when a bettor chooses a particular bet and has it on the betting slip, but the price changes before the bettor confirms the wager.
Montana is the fourth-largest state in the country by size. But with a population of only a little over a million, it is actually one of the least populated states. Thus it isn’t too surprising that Montana doesn’t have any professional major league sports franchises.
Montana does have multiple minor league baseball teams that compete in the Pioneer League. As far as pro teams go, some from Montana choose to place their allegiance with teams from Seattle, such as:
When it comes to NCAA teams from Montana, the Montana Grizzlies in Missoula and the Montana State Bobcats in Bozeman are the best known in the state.
Both compete in the Big Sky conference. They have NCAA Division I teams in basketball and FCS teams in football.
Horse racing is legal in Montana, as is betting on it. The state has one active track, the Great Falls Turf Club.
The state also allows off-track betting. From 2012 until the end of 2019, the state had its own statewide simulcast network called Montana Simulcast Racing. However, the network did not renew its contract with the Montana Board of Horse Racing. Thus 2020 began with the network having gone dark and the board seeking a new partner for simulcasting.
Meanwhile, OTB operators such as TVG, TwinSpires and BetAmerica do continue to serve those in Montana.
The legal gambling age in Montana is 18 years old.
After registering for an account at Sports Bet Montana, users also need to complete a verification process. That process involves submitting a copy of a driver’s license, a state ID card or a passport. The process has to be completed within 30 days of creating the account.
Users can deposit funds and start wagering before completing this verification process, but they cannot withdraw funds until the verification is satisfied.
Sports Bet Montana essentially offers only two methods to deposit funds into an account. The two depositing methods are:
The site also requires users to register for one depositing method. They can change their depositing method, but only after making sure there is a zero balance in their account. Changing methods might also require submitting additional documentation to verify the new method.
Users can withdraw funds using the same two methods — a debit card or ACH. Sports Bet Montana requires users to use the same method for withdrawing as they used for depositing.
The minimum withdrawal amount is $10. The daily maximum withdrawal allowed is $2,000.
The Montana Lottery Commission regulates and oversees all sports betting in the state.