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Montana Online Casinos


Among the 50 states, few have a more interesting relationship with gambling than Montana. It’s hard to say that the state is truly “pro-gambling,” considering there aren’t any commercial casinos here. But at the same time, games of chance are certainly widespread, and we have a rather interesting take on the fledgling daily fantasy sports industry.

One area where there has been little interest is online, where the government has shown no interest in passing laws and starting their own regulated sites. But that hasn’t stopped countless residents from playing at online casinos over the years, and many continue to do so today.

Gaming Common, But Low Key

Gambling in this area dates back to at least the 19th century, far before Montana became a state in 1889. When that took place, the constitution made gambling illegal, but that hardly stopped underground operations from springing up across the frontier. Up through the 1940s, pull-tabs and other games were commonly found in bars and other locations, even if they were against the law.

In the late 1940s, however, the state started to take a tougher stand against these operations. In 1950, voters were given a chance to stop this initiative, but around 80% voted against legalizing gambling, and for many years, that was the final word on the subject.

It wouldn’t be until the 1970s when the issue was again brought to the table. After the legislature and the people were given the authority to regulate gambling during a Constitutional Convention, live bingo, raffles, and card games and sports pools were legalized in 1973. Three years later, the Montana Supreme Court said that video keno was legal as it constituted a form of bingo.

After the court ruled that video poker machines were a step too far, the legislature stepped up to once again expand the gambling options here. In 1985, the Video Poker Machine Act allowed any venue with a liquor license to host five poker machines as well as an unlimited number of keno games. Expansions since that date have now updated that law to allow up to 20 video gaming devices, which can offer video poker, keno, or bingo.

Even today, however, these games face some rather stringent restrictions. Gamblers can only bet up to $2 per play, and no payouts of over $800 are allowed. The machines also cannot award cash; instead, players must receive receipts that can be taken to a cashier.

In 1986, voters approved the creation of the Montana Lottery. Today, this institution offers both statewide drawings and national games like Mega Millions and Powerball. Interestingly, the lottery now also offers a form of daily fantasy sports, in which players can select lineups and then claim prizes if they are among the top finishers. Games featuring NFL and NASCAR results have already been offered, with more likely to come in 2016.

While there are no commercial casinos in Montana, Native American gaming is alive and well. In 1994, four tribal groups negotiated compacts with the government, with three others failing in attempts to do so. Today, there are five Indian casinos that offer Class III gaming – that is to say, the full range of games you would expect to find in a resort casino. Two tribes also offer Class II venues, which offer games played against other players, such as bingo. They also feature the kinds of “electronic bingo” games that offer slots-like action, but where the reels are just for show, and the results are predetermined each time a game is started.

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Online Progress Yet to be Seen

While there has been gradual expansion of land-based gaming in Montana since the 1970s, no such progression can be seen when it comes to the online world. Lawmakers haven’t exactly been chomping at the bit to regulate the Internet casino industry, and in fact, the only actions taken have been decidedly anti-expansion in this arena. In 2005, the state legislature passed a bill that specifically prohibited gambling over the Internet, which is the last time any action has been taken on the topic.

However, it is important to note that this bill did not criminalize the actions of players who decide to play at online gambling sites; instead, it simply prohibited companies from operating such games. This is an important distinction, because many online casinos in other countries accept players from Montana despite the lack of regulation. Because of this, many Montanans choose to play on these offshore sites every day, and can do so without any risk of legal action against them. While I'd rather play at state sanctioned sites, at least the ones on these page are regulated, legal and have long standing reputations as safe places to play.

Sports Betting May See Most Movement

There aren’t any hot button issues in Montana’s gaming industry at the moment, but the state has still come up in discussions quite a bit as of late. That’s because it has traditionally been one of the five that daily fantasy sites have avoided operating in, thanks to laws that very specifically made their products (and most fantasy sports games) illegal under state law.

That prohibition is why the government decided to operate a DFS game through the state lottery – giving players an unambiguously legal way to enjoy the same sort of action, while keeping all revenues earned from the games within our borders. It’s a model that others might be able to learn from or emulate, especially as it seems more likely that the DFS industry is headed towards an era of regulation rather than any sort of outright ban.

It’s also interesting to note that Montana may have more options in this regard than most. Because the state had existing sports pools in place before the passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), they are one of four states that has at least some ability to offer limited betting. That means that even if DFS was largely shut down as an industry (still a very unlikely prospect), they could likely continue to offer their games, and do so in a way that was clearly legal under federal law.

As for wider online gambling regulation, it’s likely that players here will be waiting for a long time. As we’ve said, officials have shown zero interest in this area, and given the state’s sparse population (just over one million residents, only a little more than Alaska and Vermont), there isn’t likely to be any sort of gold rush from outside interests who want to break into the market. Given the relatively positive gaming climate here, it’s not impossible that we’ll see Internet casino sites eventually, but that day is a long way off.

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