HELENA — The Montana Lottery has begun installing sports betting kiosks in bars and casinos around the state. But there’s little for would-be bettors to wager on because of coronavirus concerns.
The installation of betting equipment began Wednesday, just hours before the NBA suspended its season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for COVID-19. About two dozen bars and casinos had Sports Bet Montana machines by Thursday morning, Lottery spokeswoman Jennifer McKee said.
The National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer announced their own suspensions. NCAA conferences canceled their league basketball tournaments and then the NCAA canceled its men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments.
“The concern is for the community and not for sports betting,” McKee said Thursday. “Sports betting will pick up as sports resumes.”
Lottery officials are advising business owners to regularly disinfect the wagering terminals.
The World Health Organization says most people infected with the new coronavirus recover. No cases have been confirmed in Montana.
But what if someone already bet on Gonzaga University to win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament?
The Sports Bet Montana system is made to accommodate the cancellation of a sporting event, McKee said. If a bet is placed through an app and the event isn’t held, the wager will be returned to the bettor’s account. Wagers placed through a terminal generate a receipt that can be used to claim winnings or a refund if the event is canceled, she said.
Betting is still available on golf, motor sports, boxing and mixed martial arts, McKee said. NASCAR has said it would hold its next two races — on Sunday in Atlanta and on March 22 in Miami — without fans.
The Montana Legislature passed a sports betting bill in May after the U.S. Supreme Court said states could set up their own wagering systems. About 180 Montana businesses have licenses to offer sports betting, and equipment installation continues.
In downtown Helena, Rialto owner Dax Cetraro said he expects the option to bet on sports will draw more people to his bar.
“My customers are excited for this; they’ve been asking a lot about when it will go live,” he told Lee Newspapers of Montana on Wednesday.
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