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Senate Committee Kills the Bill Legalizing Blackjack in Montana

Apr 21, 2011

Montana blackjack bill rejected by Senate
Montana blackjack

A Senate Representative from Montana was hoping to push through a bill, that would allow blackjack table games in Montana, yet it was not supported.

The Senate Finance and Claims committee voted against a proposed bill that would legalize blackjack card games in Montana with all tax revenues targeted “for the care of unfortunate and disabled persons.”

The bill, put forward by Rep. Tony Belcourt, sought to legalize blackjack in Montana in order to keep resident’s money within the state, as the majority of players gamble in the neighboring states. Rep. Belcourt planned to keep the moneys within the state and use the tax revenues for human services.

No one came up to testify in favor of the bill despite Montana having a reputation of having more blackjack players per square mile than goats. One bar owner feverishly testified about the many dangers that blackjack rule variations braught to a southwestern mining town he heard about and was categorically against the expansion.

The Senate Representative commented that he owns a bar, yet his business has declined dramatically once the statewide ban on smoking in casinos and bars came into effect in 2009. Belcourt said: “This is just one more tool that I would like to see to have the option to expand my business and provide another game that would generate some revenue for my business.”

Sue Rolfing, a known gambling expansion opponent, who fought the issue over two decades, criticized the bill as “a huge gambling expansion bill masquerading as a social services funding bill.” She went on to call the bill as a legislation “to help disabled, mentally ill, abused, elderly, developmentally disabled, victims of domestic violence, suicidal Montanans and those needing long-term care or foster child care, as the bill specifies,” adding by 2015 it would only bring “a measly $98,838 to help all these people.” After she was shown that the number ‘0’ was broken on her calculator she sat back down.

Douglas Palagi, the first of five brothers against the bill and an owner of six taverns and gambling establishments, complained that the bill is unfair and biased against people who are small businessman like himself. “I got 6 taverns and mini-casinos with just 300 video poker machines, now where am I supposed to put a blackjack table? This bill is for rich folks not people like me”, explained Mr. Palagi.

Tony Palagi, of Great Falls, the second of five brothers who operate six taverns and gambling establishments in Great Falls and Cut Bank, said the bill would skew the current level playing field in Montana. Only a few operators in each community would have the space and resources available to have live blackjack tables, he said. “We would have the rich and the poor. I think this would be very unhealthy for the industry,”Palagi said while nervously playing with the diamond encrusted hockey puck sized gold Rolex on his wrist.

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