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New Law Seeks to Revitalize Live Poker in Montana
With licensed tables declining, bill raises pot limits and revises tournament regulations
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A bill signed into law last month aims to revitalize live poker in Montana by increasing pot limits and revising tournament regulations.

House Bill 141, introduced by Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Ramsay, will more than double the allowed prize for an individual live card game from $300 to $800. It’s been nearly 25 years since the $300 pot limit was set.

The measure also has provisions designed to spur more poker tournaments in the state. Beginning Oct. 1, establishments that obtain a certain permit will be able to hold daily small-stakes tournaments. And a large-stakes permit will enable establishments to hold 16 bigger tournaments for a period of up to five days each.

The law also allows concurrent side tournaments to be held alongside the large-stakes events, which wasn’t previously allowed and was a deterrent to hosting major poker tournaments in Montana, according to Neil Peterson, executive director of the Gaming Industry Association of Montana.

Peterson said before this law when players lost out of a large-stakes tournament they were done. That made it difficult for organizers to attract players, since they would be reluctant to book multiple days out of their schedule for an event that might be over for them right away.

“When they lost out on Wednesday or Thursday or Friday, they just went home because they didn’t have another tournament,” Peterson said. “They probably had made hotel reservations. This allows them to stay and play in another tournament.”

“I think it will bring folks in from out of state,” he added, mentioning that Montana will now be better able to compete with other states that already have such laws in place. “It allows for some of these larger tournaments like you see on TV to happen here.”

Noonan introduced the bill on behalf of the Gaming Advisory Council and the state Department of Justice. The Montana Tavern Association also voiced its support. The proposal sailed through the House with a bipartisan final vote of 67-31 in January and then the Senate 35-13 in February. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock signed the measure into law on March 5.

Rick Ask, administrator for the Montana Justice Department’s Gambling Control Division, said the number of card tables permitted by the state has been in steady decline over the past several years. In 2009, there were 434 tables licensed statewide. Last year, there were only 295.

“The hope was that with the changes made in House Bill 141 to help improve tournament play as well as increasing the regular cash game pot limits, it would bring back the attractiveness of the game and help those in the industry,” Ask said.

Ask noted that video poker machines and bingo have $800 limits, so the new law brings live poker’s pot limits up to speed with other gaming options in Montana.

The bill also raises the annual permit fee for operating a video gambling machine from $220 to $240.
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