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History of Gambling in Montana


  • Montana’s new constitution makes all forms of gambling illegal. However, illegal gambling halls exist throughout the state.
  • Nationally, scandals in lottery sales result in an anti-gambling crusade.


  • Gambling is deemed illegal in every Western state.


  • Prohibition is repealed. Bars reopen and gambling resurfaces. Pull-tabs become popular.


  • The legislature passes the Hickey Act, which legalizes various table games in various locations if licensed by a county.


  • The legislature authorizes the State Board of Equalization to license certain “trade stimulators” and “other devices” for nonprofit organizations and collect a tax on them. Illegal slot machines are located throughout the state as “trade stimulators.”


  • The legislature declares a “law enforcement emergency” and allocates $40,000 to enforce gambling laws; then-Attorney General Arnold Olson complies.


  • The Montana Supreme Court rules that slot machines and punch boards are illegal under the state constitution.
  • Voters defeat, by a 4-1 margin, an initiative to legalize gambling.


  • Voters approve a Constitutional Convention referendum giving the Legislature and the people authority to approve or disapprove gambling.


  • The legislature passes the Card Game, Bingo, Raffles and Sports Pool Act.


  • The Montana Supreme Court legalizes video keno as a form of live bingo.


  • Voters defeat Initiative 92, which would establish a Gaming Commission and a limited list of games allowed by counties.


  • The Montana Supreme Court rules that video poker machines (Draw 80) are illegal slot machines. (Gallatin County v. D&R Music & Vending, Inc.)


  • The legislature passes the Video Poker Machine Act, which allows five poker machines per liquor license and unlimited keno machines. The law establishes license fees for machines, rather than a tax.
  • In 1986, the state issues 2,887 video poker licenses.


  • Voters approve the Montana Lottery.


  • The legislature passes a 15 percent tax on video gambling machine income, effective in 1988. The tax is collected by the Department of Commerce.


  • The state collects a tax on the gross income from video gambling machines, with one-third of the collections going to the state general fund and the remaining two-thirds to local governments.


  • The legislature passes Senate Bill 431, which centralizes gambling regulation at the state level and consolidates all gambling statutes.
  • The Department of Justice is assigned regulatory, enforcement and taxation duties.


  • The legislature lifts the limit on the number of video poker machines and authorizes a total of 20 video gambling machines per liquor license.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee rejects a blackjack bill.


  • The Senate Judiciary Committee rejects increasing the payout on poker machines from $100 to $800.
  • No new forms of gambling are proposed or approved by the legislature.
  • Nationally, gambling is on the increase as a result of state and federal law changes.
  • In Haman v. State, the Montana Supreme Court rules that gambling activity must be “…specifically and clearly authorized…and the statutes must be strictly construed…,” meaning that only those activities specifically listed in statute are legal in Montana.


  • The state negotiates gambling compacts with four Indian tribal governments: Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Fort Peck and Rocky Boy. Three tribes fail to complete negotiations, meaning gambling activities on their reservations must be suspended. (Governor Racicot declares Crow compact no longer valid because of violations.)


  • The Montana Senate passes but the House kills Senate Bill 187, which would have studied and put in place a “dial-up” computerized accounting and reporting system.
  • The legislature passes House Bill 527, increasing the payout on video poker machines to $800 maximum. Attempts by some legislators to raise the gambling gross receipts tax fail in committee.


  • The legislature rejects another request for an automated accounting and reporting system. The Gaming Advisory Council submits a bill for a compulsive gambling treatment program, which does not pass.
  • The state signs an interim compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, allowing gambling to resume on the Flathead Indian Reservation.


  • The legislature approves House Bill 109 to create an automated accounting and reporting system and provides $2.46 million to develop the new system. The Gambling Control Division (GCD) is directed to solicit proposals for the new system.


  • After two unsuccessful rounds of requests for proposals to develop the new accounting and reporting system, GCD signs a contract with Lodging and Gaming Systems (LGS) of Reno, Nevada.


  • The state sues LGS for failing to deliver the automated accounting and reporting system.
  • The state and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes enter into a five-year gaming compact.


  • GCD and the Department of Revenue initiate a combined application for gambling and liquor licenses.


  • The legislature defeats a proposal to allow the creation of “Destination Montana” – an entertainment district with Las Vegas-style casinos in Butte.


  • The 2005 Legislature approves legislation that clearly prohibits Internet gambling and defeats a proposal that would have provided for legislative involvement in approving tribal gaming compacts.


  • GCD implements a new database and tax reporting system that allows video gambling machine owners to obtain permits and pay taxes over the Internet. The new database also allows paperless processing of liquor and gambling license applications. Once the various application materials are scanned, the rest of the process is done electronically, improving efficiency.


  • Through Senate Bill 86, the legislature changes raffle prize restrictions. County raffle permits are no longer required and raffle regulation is now under the Department of Justice.
  • Variations in bingo cards are allowed.


  • The 2011 legislature approves legislation that authorizes video line games, creates a stale date for VGM win tickets, and increases the maximum prize payout for bingo to $800.  In addition, a rule was adopted to increase the bill acceptor maximum in VGMs to allow for $50s and $100s.


  • Live card game pot limit (e.g. poker) increased from $300 to $800.
  • Sports Pool wager limit increase from $5 to $25 and payout limit from $500 to $2,500.
  • A small stakes tournament permit was created.
  • Senior Citizen Centers exempted from Gambling License requirement.


  • Social card game limits have been defined in rule.
  • Temporary Operating Authority authorized.


  • The legislature eased restrictions on gambling-related nonprofit fundraising (e.g. registered nonprofits allowed to sell raffle tickets online).
  • Sports pool wager limits increased from $25 to $100 but the payout limit remained at $2,500.
  • Passage of SB 302 allows the use of checks or debit cards in Calcutta auctions and casino nights.
  • House of Representatives defeat HB578 which proposed to legalize blackjack.


  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was unconstitutional.  This opened the door to sports betting being authorized in states across the US.


  • A bill authorizing sports wagering through the Lottery is passed.  A bill authorizing sports betting by licensees under the regulation of Department of Justice is vetoed by the Governor.  A bill authorizing pari-mutuel sports betting under the Board of Horseracing did not make it through the process.
  • The dice game “cee-lo” is authorized.
  • The nonprofit fundraising activity “Heads or Tails” is authorized.
  • A bill related to gambling player reward systems was vetoed by the Governor.
  • Senate defeated HB 385 which proposed to legalize blackjack.
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