The Montana gambling landscape is on one hand quite permissive with many forms of legal gaming. On the other hand, gambling is tightly regulated in Montana and is mostly controlled by a limited number of providers at the expense of fostering a competitive gaming industry.
For example, daily fantasy sports are legal but only if offered by the MT Lottery. Sports wagering is also legal, but wagers may only be placed from within licensed bars, casinos and taverns through self-serve kiosks. Wagers may also be placed via mobile devices but only when the customer is physically located within a licensed sports betting retailer.
An unusual array of social games is also permitted, including sports pools, tavern poker and rodent racing. Horse racing and off-track betting are also legal.
The full range of legal MT gambling options includes:
- Sports betting: At licensed casinos, bars and taverns
- Video gambling machines: At licensed bars and taverns
- Tribal casinos: Class II and Class III casinos on tribal land
- Lottery: Scratch-offs and lotto drawings at authorized retailers
- Fantasy sports: Only through the MT Lottery
- Charitable gaming: Includes bingo and raffles
- Social gaming: Includes live poker, sports pools and rodent racing
Online Gambling in Montana
The only form of online gambling that is legal in Montana is advance deposit wagering (online horse racing betting). The MT Board of Horse Racing issues licenses to ADW providers.
Some of the more well-known betting sites licensed in Montana include:
Daily fantasy sports on the internet are not legal in Montana. This is because the MT Lottery offers daily fantasy sports and those tickets may only be purchased at retailers. Currently, the lottery only offers fantasy contests for the NFL and NASCAR.
Land-Based Casinos in Montana
Land-based casinos in Montana take two forms. Tribal groups may operate Class II casinos with video gambling machines that are based on bingo or Class III casinos if the controlling tribe has a gaming compact with the state.
Additionally, bars and taverns may host up to 20 video poker, video lottery and video poker machines featuring a maximum payout of $800. At last count, there were more than 1400 of these smaller gambling establishments located throughout the state.
Tribal Casinos in MT
|Silver Wolf Casino
300 MT Hwy 25 E
|Glacier Peaks Hotel & Casino
46 Museum Loop
|Northern Winz Hotel & Casino
|Gray Wolf Peak Casino
|Kwataqnuk Flathead Lake Resort & Casino
49708 US Hwy 93 E
|Fort Belknap Casino
104 Assiniboine Ave
|Charging Horse Casino, Bingo & Restaurant
1/2 US 212
Sports Betting in Montana
Montana has a longer history with sports betting than most states as it was one of just four states to receive an exemption from the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). At the time PASPA was passed, Montana already had a sports betting law on the books authorizing taverns to host limited types of sports pools.
A provision in PASPA allowed states to keep whatever forms of legal sports betting they already had in place at the time the law took effect. Montana was therefore able to keep its sports pools, but Vegas-style sports betting remained out of reach until the Supreme Court overturned PASPA in 2018.
In 2019, the MT legislature sent a bill to Governor Steve Bullock to authorize sports wagering at kiosks managed by the state lottery. Governor Bullock signed HB 725 into law to finally authorize traditional, Vegas-style sports betting.
Under the law, licensed establishments may install sports betting kiosks managed by the lottery under the Sports Bet Montana brand. Customers must be 18 or older to place wagers and may only do so at licensed establishments. Mobile betting is only permitted to the extent that users with smartphones may place wagers through authorized apps while physically present within a licensed sports betting establishment.
Poker in Montana
Live poker is legal in any tavern that applies for a license to offer it. This also permits the state’s reservations to offer it. There is no bet limit. However, a poker pot may not be higher than $800. This was raised from $300 in 2013. Daily tournaments are also permitted.
Online poker is not legal in Montana. The activity has never been seriously considered by the state legislature.
Montana Poker Rooms
It is relatively easy to open a card room and host real money poker rooms in Montana. Licensed liquor-selling establishments that already hold a gambling operator’s license need only fill out a single page application, pay a small fee and wait for approval.
There are about two dozen licensed poker rooms in the state, but all are small operations. Large scale poker rooms like you would find at a full-fledged casino in Nevada or New Jersey are nowhere to be found. Many poker rooms are only open during peak hours or on weekends.
An up to date list of business authorized to offer live card games can be found here.
Video Gambling Machines
Roughly 1400 establishments across the state are authorized to host up to 20 video gambling machines. According to the MT Department of Justice, legal video gambling machines (VGMs) can be found in every county and more than 16,000 machines are in operation.
Under state law, VGMs may accept a maximum bet of $2 and feature a maximum payout of $800. A full list of licensed VGM locations can be found here.
Home Poker Games
Home poker games appear to be legal in Montana, although the language of the law on this issue is vague. Montana Code §23-5-1-112 exempts social card games from the legal definition of gambling as follows:
“Social card games of bridge, cribbage, hearts, pinochle, pitch, rummy, solo, and whist played solely for prizes of minimal value, as defined by department rule.”
This definition does not specifically name “poker” and the definition of “minimal value” is open to interpretation, but generally it appears home poker games are tolerated as long as they are not run for a profit.
There is no history of home poker games being hassled by law enforcement in Montana and the minimal value language has never been ruled on by a court.
Fantasy Sports in Montana
Major daily fantasy sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings do not accept customers from Montana. This is quite unfortunate for MT sports fans because the house advantage on Montana Sports Action is a tad excessive, to say the least. The lottery keeps 27% of the prize pool in every game.
The Montana Lottery was established after a successful statewide referendum in November 1986. The first tickets were sold in June 1987. Players must be at least 18 years old and lottery proceeds go to the general fund.
In addition to the fantasy sports described in the previous section, the Montana Lottery offers four interstate lotto drawings, four intrastate drawings and scratch-off games.
Montana Lottery games:
- Lotto America
- Lucky for Life
- Mega Millions
- Montana Millionaire
- Montana Cash
- Big Sky Bonus
- Montana Fantasy
Games of Skill
Contests of skill may only be played for real money if there is no chance involved. For instance, paying money to enter a golf tournament and compete for prizes is fine.
However, online skill games are prohibited across the board.
There are two legal issues at play here that keep skill gaming operators out of Montana. First, the state’s definition of gambling includes risking money on any activity based “in whole or in part upon lot, chance…”
Second, Montana is one of a few states with laws on the books that specifically address and prohibit internet gambling. Furthermore, the state’s legal definition of “internet gambling” is so wide-ranging that even pure skill gaming operators such as WorldWinner refuse to do business with Montana residents.
Montana Code § 23-5-112 defines internet gambling as follows:
“Internet gambling”, by whatever name known, includes but is not limited to the conduct of any legal or illegal gambling enterprise through the use of communications technology that allows a person using money, paper checks, electronic checks, electronic transfers of money, credit cards, debit cards, or any other instrumentality to transmit to a computer information to assist in the placing of a bet or wager and corresponding information related to the display of the game, game outcomes, or other similar information.
State law does not address esports, but the same reasons that keep other online games of skill out of Montana keep most online sports providers out of Montana as well. GamerSaloon.com accepts Montana residents, but PlayersLounge.co does not.
Horse Racing Betting
Horseracing was legalized in 1965 after a 50-year absence in the state. There are two racetracks in the state, though there are few race days. Virtually all the wagering on races occurs at off-track betting parlors and on mobile apps for races held in other states.
Each year, the two racetracks listed below host a handful of race days:
Interestingly, horses are not the only animal races permitted in Montana. Taverns with sports pool permits may host gerbil, hamster and pig races.
Montana Gambling Laws
Legal gambling began in Montana in 1965 when the state legislature created a horse racing commission. Horse racing was previously legal into the World War I era but was repealed. Its history dated to long before Montana was a state.
The next gaming expansion occurred in 1973 with lawmakers authorizing charitable and social gaming. Bingo, poker and sports pools were also legalized that year.
In 1976, video keno entered taverns. This expanded to video poker in 1985 in what is now called video lottery. A state lottery launched the following year. In 1994, tribal groups were permitted to operate slot machines. The state lottery established fantasy sports in 2008. In 2019, sports betting was signed into law.
The following agencies regulate gaming in Montana:
Montana Lottery Law
The Montana Lottery began with a bill introduced in 1985 calling for a statewide referendum that voters approved by a 69 to 31 margin. The first tickets went on sale a little more than a year later, and the lottery has paid hundreds of millions in prizes to winners since.
State law dictates the lottery must pay back at least 45% of revenue to winners. Revenue kept by the state has been applied to a variety of causes over the years but currently goes to the Montana General Fund.
In 2008, the Montana Lottery expanded to fantasy sports contests for NFL and NASCAR. A 2019 law gives the state lottery the authority to operate sports betting kiosks.
Tribal Casino Law
Federal law allows tribal groups to operate Class II casinos (bingo, video bingo machines and poker) without state authorization if the state permits any form of gambling elsewhere. Some tribal groups operate Class II casinos in lieu of negotiating with the state.
However, most tribal groups have gaming compacts with the state allowing them to operate Class III gaming facilities. Even these Class III casinos are quite restricted in what they offer compared to casinos in other states.
The various tribal casinos are restricted by their gaming compacts in the number of slots they may offer, maximum wagers they may accept and maximum prizes they may offer. Each gaming compact varies in such details, but the largest slots payouts authorized anywhere in Montana are just $5,000.
Montana’s tribal casinos may only spread live poker, slots, video poker and video keno. House-banked table games are not permitted in any form, live or electronic. Players must be at least 18 years of age by law though many do not allow patrons under 21.
Charities may host a variety of gaming events with proper registration. This includes bingo, raffles and poker nights. Charitable gaming was authorized in 1973 with the legalization of bingo. This expanded to video poker in 1985. These games may be spread in licensed taverns. The state taxes these games at a rate of 15%. There is a $300 annual fee for charitable gaming entities. Players must be at least 18 years of age for bingo and poker. Minors may buy raffle tickets.
Live Poker Law
Live poker is permitted in taverns and at tribal casinos but with a maximum pot size of $800. Technically, poker players may be 18 years old. However, most taverns restrict entry to those at least 21 years of age. Poker is regulated by Montana Code §23-5-3.
Online Gambling Laws
Mobile horseracing is the only version of legalized online gambling in Montana. Licensees include TVG, BetAmerica and TwinSpires. Accounts may be created on the apps. Deposits and withdrawals are processed on it. Daily fantasy sports companies do not accept Montana players because the state lottery has a monopoly on the games. Mobile horse bettors must be at least 18 years of age.
Sports Betting Laws
Montana legalized sports betting in 2019 through HB 725 to give the MT Lottery sole authorization to operate sports betting kiosks.
Governor Steve Bullock vetoed a separate bill that would have created a competitive market in which commercial enterprises could have placed sports betting kiosks at authorized bars and taverns. The governor stated at the time that he felt the lottery route was the better option but is willing to revisit the issue in the future.
Montana was exempted from the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act as state law already permitted taverns to operate sports pools. These contests are still permitted if the house does not hold part of the prize pool. Montana permits the sale of sports betting tickets to anyone at least 18 years of age.
Racing betting Laws
Montana residents may bet on horse, gerbil, hamster and pig races. Only horses are offered in an organized format through off-track betting at the state’s two tracks and on mobile apps. The state’s tracks are mostly dormant these days. Hamster, gerbil and pig racing can be found from time to time at certain taverns. Players must be at least 18 years of age.