Rise in Montana Video-Gambling Taxes Slows

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The rate of growth in taxes Montana collects on video gambling machines fell to 4.4 percent in fiscal 2008, the lowest rate since the 2.5 percent recorded for fiscal 2001.

“Tax collections kept going up and then in the third quarter (January-March 2008), all of a sudden they fell,” said Gene Huntington, administrator of the state Gambling Control Division. Officials say the drop may reflect the nation’s economic turmoil and high prices for gasoline during the summer.

Huntington said the rate of growth in tax collections dipped to 1.8 percent during the third quarter but bumped upward during the fourth, the period when federal economic-stimulus payments were disbursed.

The Gambling Control Division recently released a report showing that Montana collected $63.4 million in taxes on video gambling machines in fiscal 2008, which ended in June. Taxes totaled $60.8 million in fiscal 2007.

About $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion was wagered on state-regulated video gambling machines in fiscal 2008, up slightly from the dollar range in fiscal 2007, Huntington said.

“You talk to some folks (in the gambling business) and ask how business is going, and they say it’s good,” said Neil Peterson, executive director of the Gaming Industry Association of Montana, which represents major casinos. “You talk to others, and it’s down a little bit.”

The number of state video gambling machine permits purchased in fiscal 2008 fell to 20,420, from 22,200 the previous year. State officials attribute the drop to growth in multi-game machines equipped to offer both keno and poker.

The report released by the Gambling Control Division says the state collected slightly more than $68 million in gambling taxes in fiscal 2008. Of that sum, $63.4 million came from taxes on video gambling machines. Other sources of the revenue were gambling permit fees, accounting for almost $4 million, and card-table permit fees, accounting for $138,246.

Huntington said totals do not include money tied to horse racing or to gambling on Indian reservations.