Drive down a main road in one of Montana’s cities and you will count more casinos than gas stations. What’s more, even the gas station has a casino inside. Pass through a small town and you will likely find at least one Lucky Lil’s or Magic Diamond Casino. Montana is currently home to just under 1,400 state-licensed gambling operators and ranks fifth in the nation in casinos per capita with 1.7 casinos per thousand residents. One study used 21 different metrics including casinos per capita, lottery sales per capita, casino revenues, and gambling-related arrests per capita. Based on these metrics, the study assigned each state a “gambling problem” rank- ing and a “gambling law friendliness” ranking; Montana ranked third in the country when averaging the two categories. Every Montanan knows the prevalence of gambling in the state, but fewer are familiar with Montana’s gambling laws. Gamblers can wager livelihoods on the three-year-old thoroughbred at the horse track or sit at a keno machine for 12 hours straight, but will not find a live blackjack table or a slot machine—neither are legal. Despite the constraints, gambling is a massive source of revenue for the state. In 2022, the Montana Department of Justice reported that the state received over $82 million in revenue from gambling taxes, permitting, and fines. Notably, around 93% of that revenue came from the Video Gaming Machine Income Tax, which is deposited directly into the state General Fund. Montana is home to seven Indian reservations. Compacts between the state and the tribes govern gambling on the reservations. Although com- pact terms and internal control systems differ for each tribe, generally, casinos on reservations offer more games, including “Class III” slot machines, which are Vegas-style slot machines that support higher maximum bets and payouts than off-reservation slot machines. By contrast, the “Class II” slot machines found in the rest of Montana are restricted to “bingo” style games featuring comparatively lower maximum bets and payouts. This comment explores the contrast between the pro-gambling nature of Montana’s citizens and the absence of that mentality in state law. Section II of this comment summarizes the history of gambling and gambling law in Montana. Section III examines political influence on gambling law through the legislative and the executive branches. Section IV proposes the expansion of legal gambling in Montana and explores its benefits. Section V concludes this comment.
Trevor Funseth, Comment, Treasure State: Gambling Law, Lobbying, and the Case for the Expansion of Legal Gambling in Montana, 84 Mont. L. Rev. 2 (2023).