Doubling Down

Now wagering could get even weirder

By Kellyn Brown

Montana is poised to allow residents to wager on games when it finally unveils what may be the weirdest sports-betting program in the country. Initially, the system was planned to be in place before the beginning of football season. But that was delayed, likely due to the law’s unnecessary complexity.

A bill authorizing sports betting passed during the recent Legislative Session and is already layered with rules and regulations. Establishments offering gambling must be licensed by the state. Athletes, referees and team personnel are barred from participating. Bettors must be 18 years old. All of this makes sense, but then it goes further.

The Montana Lottery, which will oversee sports betting, had already determined that state residents would be barred from placing bets from the comfort of their homes. Instead, gamblers will have to visit a kiosk at a licensed retailer. Or, you can download a mobile app — an app that only works if you are physically inside one of those retailers (beacons will recognize your cell phone when you enter.)

Now wagering could get even weirder. The state says it wants to limit sports-betting locations to establishments that have both alcoholic beverage licenses and a gambling operator’s license.

According to draft rules expected to be proposed by the lottery at a public hearing this week in Helena and first reported by Lee Newspapers, “The lottery has taken this approach because by limiting eligibility to locations that possess the appropriate alcoholic beverage license for certain gambling activities, the lottery will ensure a sufficient number of locations to offer sports wagering and help limit any adverse impacts of an overabundance of population.”

Basically, the lottery is propping up Montana’s archaic alcohol license laws, which are based on a quota system and can drive up prices on liquor licenses to hundreds of thousands of dollars, as some sort of temperance success story. There is no evidence to back this up. Instead, everyone from chefs to brewers to city officials say the system is largely broken. It stifles economic development. It favors larger chains with deeper pockets over homegrown restaurants. And, these Prohibition-era laws have simply resulted in casinos gobbling up an outsized number of those allotted to the state’s largest cities.

But, apparently, we’re going to double down.

If you want to bet on a game, under the proposed rules you would HAVE to go to a bar or establishment that can legally serve booze. If you’re watching those games from your home and the ball is not bouncing your way, you would HAVE to go back to a drinking establishment to hedge your bets.

Since the original law passed by the Legislature doesn’t require sports-betting locations to also have an alcohol license, a memo was sent to the committee considering the rule changes that stated, “There may be a potential legal issue with the Commission’s proposal.”

I assume they will find a way around it. For a state that prides itself for having a libertarian streak, when it comes to liquor and gambling, we’ve decided to implement the most convoluted and overreaching rules we can hatch up. Instead of trying to come up with ways to fairly compensate liquor license holders and update alcohol laws, we’re cementing their legacies.

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