Helena, Montana

Lottery sports-betting contract under fire — but betting could be in place this year

HELENA — Sports betting in Montana could be under way by the end of the year, state Lottery officials said Thursday — although gambling-industry lobbies in Montana urged a slower path, saying the Lottery should rebid its contract to operate the new activity.

“You’re awarding a contract that’s worth $4.5 million to $6.1 million over the next four years, each year, to a company on a no-bid contract,” said Neil Peterson of the Gaming Industry Association of Montana. “I’m hearing rumblings within the industry that should the (Lottery) Commission go ahead and do a no-bid contract … that you could have some litigation over that.”

The 2019 Montana Legislature legalized sports betting in Montana and placed it under control of the state Lottery. Gov. Steve Bullock also vetoed a bill that would have allowed other private vendors to offer sports wagering.

The Lottery has said it plans to use its existing contractor, Intralot, to operate sports wagering in the state.

Intralot has a seven-year contract with the Lottery that it signed in 2015, and the contract allows for the company to offer sports betting, Lottery officials said.

At a meeting of the state Lottery Commission Thursday, Lottery staff presented 18 pages of draft rules on sports betting, defining things such as licensing of betting sites and who can play.

Intralot would run the kiosks that offer sports-betting. The kiosks would be at locations already licensed for gambling, such as bars and casinos.

Lottery staff said they’ll soon schedule public hearings on the final rules, and that they hope to have the process completed by the end of the year.

“The current contract is in place and forward-looking and provides for sports wagering, and it’s our intention to work with our current vendor,” said Angela Wong, the state lottery director. “We’re having legal review that again. We recognize that we are in the very early stages of our public process.”

Lobbyists for the gambling industry said its members should get a chance to bid on the contract.

“These companies have more experience in the United States sports-betting market than Intralot does, and we feel that in order to obtain the best provider for Montana, the lottery needs to go through the full (bid) process,” said Ronda Wiggers of the Montana Coin Machine Operators Association.

Commission members, who would decide on any contract change, gave no indication that they would change course at this point.

Commission Chair Wilbur Rehmann said he hopes the rules also address a seedier side of sports wagering: Point-shaving by athletes.

“I just want to make sure we’re looking at the possibility of the impact on high school students, college students, in terms of playing sports,” he said. “The lure is so great for the cash involved in sports betting. Point-shaving, in my mind, it’s really the evil underflow of this whole sports wagering — not adults out wanting to bet on a game.”

Wong said the Lottery plans on reaching out to colleges and other schools about possible effects on athletes.

 

Mike Dennison

Mike Dennison

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