Just like the countdown to winter ending, it feels some days like the launch of legal sports betting in Montana will never come. Then, out of the blue last week, a date was thrown out by the Montana Lottery, who will be managing the operation. March 9th was the tentative date given for the launch…but will they make it to the starting line in time?
A long time coming
Sports betting has been on the minds of people in Montana for some time. In fact, the state became the first to pass legislation in 2019, passing its bill all the way back in March of that year. Since then, it has taken some time to sort out the plan for launch, and as with any project of this magnitude, there were bound to be delays. There was an initial hope that the product would be ready for the market by the start of the last football season, but when that date was missed, the sense of urgency seemed to dissipate.
What's been taking so long?
There have been several delays in putting together the infrastructure for the sports betting platform in Montana, and one of the major issues is the way the licensing is going to work. First, there is only one actual operator (the Montana Lottery), which means there is only one approved vendor. This lack of competition meant there was no race to get to market, which in turn meant that sports bettors were at the mercy of the Lottery.
Legal Sports Betting…with its own twist
Another issue that is facing the Montana Lottery in setting up the infrastructure in the state is the way the licensing will work. The law states that any location with a liquor license can apply to be a sports betting agent. That means there could be up to 1,400 agents in the state. Any approved agent (there are close to 150 so far) will receive a sports betting kiosk in their location, and those machines are being delivered and installed this week.
What may cause some more pain for the Lottery (and for bettors) is the online piece of the puzzle. There will be one app for the whole state for online sports betting. However, these apps are only allowed to be used in the physical locations of the kiosks. This means a whole lot of ringfencing that has to be done so that players do not have access to the app when they walk out of the establishment with the kiosk. There is no doubt that this is going to have issues, and time will tell if this will be the final solution.
Bettors faced with challenges
Sports betting in Montana will be live soon, but several limitations will likely have an impact on the revenue and handle numbers. First, of course, is the fact that the mobile app will not work from players' homes. States like New Jersey and Pennsylvania are seeing the vast majority of bets being placed from mobile devices (over 85% last month), and this is a major factor in the overall success of the business. Montana is sure to see much lower numbers as players will have to be in physical locations near kiosks to make their wagers.
Another issue that could raise eyebrows is the betting limit on sports. It is currently set at $250 at a kiosk and $1,000 on the app. Many people will want to bet more than that on a game, and this will likely mean the offshore sports betting operators will continue to thrive.
Let's see what happens
The good news is that sports betting is coming to Montana imminently. Regardless of some of the hurdles being placed in front of bettors, the fact that we are only days away is a great thing for sports fans across the state. Fingers are crossed all over Montana that the first bets will be taken just in time for the ever-popular March Madness, which starts on March 17th.