HELENA — A bill to raise the pot limits for live poker games in Montana won the backing Tuesday of gambling and tavern interests and the state Justice Department.
No one testified against the bill at a hearing before the House Business and Labor Committee.
Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Ramsay, introduced House Bill 141 on behalf of the Gaming Advisory Council, on which he serves. It studies gambling-related matters between legislative sessions and makes recommendation to the Justice Department, which regulates gambling.
His bill boosts the pot limits for live poker games to $800 from the current $300 limit, set in 1989. It also allows small-stakes live poker tournaments to be played daily.
In addition, it provides for a $20 increase annually in permit fees for each video gambling machine to cover a projected shortfall at the Gambling Control Division. The fee would rise to $240 a year from $220 a year.
In fiscal 2012 the state issued 19,294 video gambling machine permits. It was estimated the bill would raise about $356,000 in additional revenue in fiscal 2014.
Raising the pot limits for live poker to $800 will bring it in line with the limits with video poker and bingo, Noonan said.
As for the increase in video gambling machine permit fees, he said representatives of the machine owners and route operators, who lease machines to casinos and taverns, supported it in the Gambling Advisory Council.
Rick Ask, administrator of the Gambling Control Division in the state Justice Department, said the number of card tables permitted by the state has dropped steadily in recent years. So have poker tournaments.
“We believe this is going to help revitalize live poker in Montana, which has been in decline,” said Neil Peterson, executive director of the Gaming Industry Association of Montana, which represents casinos, route operators and video machine operators. “We think these will be good for the economy, good for the locations and good for live poker.”
Ronda Wiggers, representing the Montana Coin Operators Association, also backed the bill, saying, “This does bring new people into the locations.”
John Iverson of the Montana Tavern Association also supported the bill, saying it would help promote poker, which he called “a historic Montana game.”
The committee didn’t immediately vote on the bill.