AG Clarifies Montana Gambling Laws to NCAA

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Attorney General Steve Bullock wrote to the NCAA Tuesday to clarify that Montana’s gambling laws prohibit wagering on the outcome of athletic events.

State and university officials have been working to prove that Montana’s legalized betting on fantasy sports leagues does not violate the NCAA’s stance against wagering on the outcome of sporting events. The NCAA has said the University of Montana should not have been allowed to host football playoff games last season because the state allows a form of sports gambling.

Bullock sent the letter to NCAA General Counsel Elsa Kircher Cole on Tuesday in response to a letter Cole sent to David Aronofsky, counsel for the University of Montana.

“I am hopeful I can provide some clarification of Montana’s legal sports-related gambling, and assist the NCAA in understanding that the limited forms of gambling we allow do not undermine or frustrate the NCAA’s legitimate concerns about demeaning the integrity of competition or the competitors,” Bullock wrote.

He said Cole’s letter concludes that Montana Law permits “wagering ‘based upon the outcome of any event,'” and that, as a result, the games that have been permitted by Montana law since 1991 may in some way run afoul of the NCAA policy regarding the hosting of tournament events.

“As the state’s chief legal officer and the head of the Montana Department of Justice, which regulates gambling in Montana, I feel compelled to respond,” Bullock wrote, adding that the NCAA letter is confusing with respect to the association’s meaning of wagering on the outcome of an event.

“On the one hand, you acknowledge that Montana law does not allow wagering on the direct outcome of an event, yet at the same time you suggest our state law is in violation because it encompasses wagering on the outcome of any event, as presumably contemplated by the NCAA’s rules,” Bullock wrote.

Bullock’s letter says, “The outcome of the sports pool gambling games simply could not possibly be more random,” and it notes that state statutes make it clear that laws authorizing fantasy leagues “do not … authorize betting or wagering on the outcome of an individual sports event.”

“We are aware that at least four other states — Iowa, North Dakota, Mississippi and Washington — allow betting through sports pools,” Bullock wrote. “This certainly raises the question of why Montana would be penalized and these other states not.”

University of Montana Vice President Jim Foley said Tuesday he does not know when the NCAA will make a decision on Montana’s eligibility to host NCAA playoff events. He said Bullock’s letter is “the next step in the process.”

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