Launched in March 2020

Montana sports wagering handle raises to $46M in 2021 amid state betting product criticism

Reading time 2:11 min

Montana sports bettors wagered a total of $46 million in 2021, a sharp increase compared to 2020. The market picked up during last year, following a tumultuous start amid Covid-related restrictions experienced in 2020.

As sporting events returned and bars throughout the state reopened during 2021, the state was able to see how its own betting product, Sports Bet Montana, fared. The total amount of bets increased by $28 million compared to the prior year, but the state has been reported as still offering substandard odds to its bettors, according to a report by The Daily Montanan.

Montanans wagered an approximate $2 million more every month last year and, through December 27, wagered a total of $46 million, while $40 million was paid out by the state. In comparison, $18 million were wagered and $16 million paid out in 2020, according to data provided by the Montana Lottery.

As expected, NFL proved to be the most popular betting choice during the year, followed by NBA and MLB. Basketball dominated January through April, baseball led May through August, and September topped September through December.

The legislative framework set out by the bill that legalized the market in Montana states that, in order to place wagers, sports bettors must be near sports betting kiosks, which are more commonly located in bars and casinos. Venues receive 6% of all bets placed, which implied $2.7 million of profit in 2021.

While launch in March of 2020 was troubled by restrictions amid the Covid pandemic, last year proved a marked improvement. “In 2021, we started seeing the kinds of betting behavior that we were hoping to see,” Montana Lottery communications manager Jennifer McKee said earlier this month, according to The Daily Montanan.

But the sports betting market in the state has also been conditioned by other factors. In 2019, former Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a Republican-sponsored bill set to foster competition by allowing taverns and bars to offer their own sports betting products. Instead, he signed Democrat-backed House Bill 725 into law, which gave control of the market to the state lottery.

The monopolistic nature of the bill results in Montana bettors only being allowed to use Sports Bet Montana, a product run by third-party contractor Intralot. A long-time state’s lottery vendor, the company received the sports betting contract in a controversial no-bid process.

Sports Bet Montana has been criticized by many customers who describe the product as “lackluster,” especially for the poor odds it provides bettors. Instead of offering the industry-standard odds of -110, the Intralot product often offers odds of -125 or -118, reports the previously cited news source.

The situation has been described as similar to the one in the Washington, D.C. market, in which Intralot also operates the District's lottery and sports betting regimes. Figures reported in November showed bettors continue to prefer private sportsbooks to the city’s government program, Gambet, which was criticized for operational problems.

Montana’s sports betting product has been credited as offering prices that are not competitive with offshore books, or those who operate privately, thus limiting the amount of revenue the state can bring in. With less than $10 million in revenue in two years, the state has been reported by experts as lagging behind other legal markets.

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