A pair of bills are making their way through the Montana Legislature that would make sports betting legal in the state.

The measures come in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued last year that struck down a federal law making sports betting illegal. Montana is one of many states that have passed or are considering laws to make sports betting legal. A Montana House proposal would legalize sports betting under the state lottery. Under a Senate bill, sports gambling would be administered by the Department of Justice and sports gambling license holders would be required to have an alcoholic beverage license to offer sports betting.

Lawmakers may want to think carefully about the latter. The state limits the number of liquor licenses issued to any given area’s based on its population. This restriction has already created a virtual black market for the licenses with those in particularly desirable markets going for $1 million or more. Requiring an alcohol beverage license for an establishment that offers sports betting will only increase the premium on these licenses and give even more disproportionate financial privilege to those who already have alcoholic beverage licenses.

That’s not a good thing. Further inflated prices for alcohol licenses will make it possible for only the most well-heeled individuals or corporations to get into the business. Lawmakers have been trying to even the playing field for liquor licenses by opening up a bidding process for any new licenses issued. But that has been insufficient for making the licenses more accessible to startup businesses in areas like Bozeman, where tourist traffic turns the licenses into veritable gold mines.

The two sports betting bills have been passed in their respective chambers and now must be considered for amendments before some version is likely headed for the governor’s desk. As lawmakers consider these measures, they should at least consider the effects that coupling sports betting with alcoholic beverage license will have on the already exclusive market those licenses.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

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