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Montana would join a growing list of states with legalized sports betting if a bill proposed in the state Legislature passes.

Last May a U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door to legalized sports betting at the state level. If passed, Senate Bill 330 sponsored by Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, would allow sports books to operate at locations already licensed to conduct gambling in Montana.

A betting bill tracker on ESPN.com lists seven states that have joined Nevada with fully legal sports betting through Feb. 13. Several others — including Montana — are designated as nearing legalization.

The bill calls for the state Department of Justice to collect 8.5 percent of a licensed sports book’s gross receipts minus winnings paid and federal excise tax each quarter for deposit in a special revenue fund.

The DOJ would be allowed to reimburse itself from the fund for expenses related to sports betting and use up to 15 percent of the fund’s deposits to cover operating expenses. Any surplus remaining in the fund exceeding $250,000 would revert to the state general fund.

The bill also outlines the costs of doing business for sports book operators — a $1,000 annual licensing fee, a $100 fee for betting kiosks and 5 percent of net income to be paid to the licensed gambling location in which they operate. The bill outlines a similar $1,000 fee for “platform operators,” or sports books that operate online.

Despite allowing platform operations, the bill restricts even online betting to physical locations licensed by the state to house a sports betting operation.

Blasdel, who serves on the DOJ’s gaming advisory council, called his bill the product of "a lot of listening, a lot of trying to address different discussions … and trying to do something that would work for the state of Montana."

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No one opposed the bill Tuesday when it was heard by the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee.

Proponents took opposing stances when the topic of online betting outside licensed locations arose. Neil Peterson, executive director of the Gaming Industry Association of Montana, asked that an amendment be considered to allow online betting anywhere in the state, while Tavern Association lobbyist John Iverson said such a move would only deprive local businesses.

Blasdel's bill holds some degree of bipartisan support with seven House co-sponsors, including those in leadership. A fiscal note, which would estimate how much it would cost to implement the program and how much money it would generate, was not available Tuesday. 

An American Gaming Association survey made public Monday estimated that about 1 in 5 American adults will legally and illegally bet $8.5 billion on the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament in the coming weeks.

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Local and State Government Reporter

State and local government reporter for the Independent Record.

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