Will Montana Online Sports Betting Laws Ever Loosen?

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jun 8, 2023 12:00 AM
Montana online sports betting laws remain restrictive.

Though online sports betting in Montana has been legal for more than four years, the terms of its operation remain incredibly restrictive. Now, as we enter the back end of 2023, the prospect of change—or lack thereof—has generated more attention.

Will laws for Montana online sports betting laws ever loosen? That's the question everyone's asking.

The timing behind this inquiry has turned some heads. Montana has offered online sports gambling for quite some time. Why are people suddenly digging into policy overhaul now, nearly a half-decade later?

The lack of discussion, until recently, has been interpreted as satisfaction. To that end, state officials aren't necessarily the ones driving this discourse. After all, the Montana online sports betting setup was established by them. They seem content to still run a largely state-controlled operation.

Bettors, on the other hand, are singing a different tune. What, exactly, are they saying? What makes online sports betting laws in Montana so restrictive? And what does the future hold? Let's get into it all.

How Montana Online Sports Betting Works in 2023

When people think of legal online sports betting in the United States, they usually have a very specific vision that comes to mind. Thoughts don't immediately go to limitations or niche regulations. To most, "legal online sports betting" simply means having the ability to sign up and bet with top online sportsbooks in the United States.

Most of the time, this is exactly what happens when states green light mobile sports wagering. Every so often, however, certain places deviate from the conventional script. Montana is among these exceptions. For their residents, "online sports betting" actually means betting with a state-run website, which they can only use when located within state lines. Bart Shirley of Legal Sports report recently explained how the entire Montana sports betting setup actually works:

"Montana established sports betting as a government-run entity, rather than as a competitive market. The Montana Lottery is both the regulator and the purveyor of sports betting in the state. Thus, all of the sports betting products that you can find in Montana, whether retail or online, are extensions of the lottery. Perhaps the most significant part of the law is the restriction that it places on online sports betting. Although the lone legal sports betting app, Sports Bet Montana, is part of a state agency, players cannot place wagers outside of the premises of one of the many sportsbook locations in the state. The app allows registrations, deposits and the like without a visit to a physical location, but the final step to secure your wager requires travel."

These rules are incredibly limited relative to most other states with online sports betting. Take online sports betting in Ohio, for example, which went live at the start of 2023. Residents don't need to be inside the state to place wagers on mobile betting apps. Nor are they only restricted to using one singular online sports betting site. Ohioans can choose from a number of different sports betting apps that state has licensed, and they can (usually) service their accounts no matter where they reside, even if they are traveling to states without legal gambling.

Montana has gone the complete opposite direction. And with more and more states going the direction that Ohio has traveled, it feels like Big Sky Country is behind the eight-ball. Surely Montana is leaving plenty of sports betting revenue on the table. They might even be artificially deflating sports betting interest.

Interest in Sports Gambling Appears to be on the Rise Among Montana Residents

Or maybe not.

Despite the restrictions placed upon legal online sports betting in Montana, the year-over-year revenue is on the rise. The state recently released their full figures from the last fiscal year, and it turns out they enjoyed a major bump in business. "In 2022, revenue totaled $7.2 million, which was a 12 percent increase from 2021," according to NBC Montana. "The Montana Lottery logged $2.7 million in profits, up nearly 41 percent from the previous year."

It's easy to see why the state may not be considering an expansion of online sports betting policy. They're clearly making money as things are currently structured.

Proponents of how Montana handles sports betting will argue that they offset rigid online gambling laws by having more licensed retail gambling locations than pretty much every state in the country. It's tough to argue with that logic.

Still, this isn't about claims that Montana sports betting isn't working out. It definitely is. Instead, this discussion is more about whether Montana has the opportunity to do even better.

Montana will Probably Have to Consider Expanding Online Sports Betting Laws in the Future

As well as Montana sports betting has done, the state may eventually need to loosen their current gambling laws, mostly because they should want to keep up with the latest gambling trends.

Last year, more than three-quarters of bets placed in the United States were processed through an online sportsbook. Many brick-and-mortar operations may still be thriving, but now more than ever, they're viewed as secondary gambling options. The betting community has spoken, and they have made it overwhelmingly clear that they prefer the ease and speed of placing wagers through mobile devices.

Perhaps Montana's sports betting revenue keeps climbing in the years to come. But it only stands to increase at higher, more aggressive rates if they allow residents to place bets online. And while they might not earn as much per bet by opening the doors to commercial online sportsbooks, the uptick in total transactions alone could represent millions of dollars in revenue per year.

Predicting the future of sports betting is tough. Especially for a state that has remained tethered to the same model for so long. But if we had to guess, we'd expect Montana online sports betting laws to loosen in one of the next two general elections.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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