HELENA — A bill introduced Tuesday would add "video line games" — which appear to resemble video slot machines games with multiple rows and columns — to the forms of legalized electronic gambling in Montana.
Sen. Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek, said he dropped in Senate Bill 361 at the request of the state's three major gambling lobbying groups, the Gaming Industry Association of Montana, Montana Coin Machine Operators Association and the Montana Tavern Association. It will be heard Friday by the Senate Business and Labor Committee.
"I just think that it updates the industry," Ripley said. "I don't think it expands the gaming at all. It's a chance for more revenue."
He said the current electronic gambling machines allow people to choose between playing electronic poker or keno. His bill would add a third choice, Ripley said.
Ripley and industry officials are emphatic that video line games aren't video slot machines, but instead a separate new game popular in many states.
Unlike slot machines, these video line games would have no reels of symbols or "arms" that players pull to generate the line of symbols from the reels.
His bill would prohibit operators, distributors and manufacturers from "referencing games not authorized under this title in advertising, promoting or inducing play of a video gambling machine."
"They are afraid some people will advertise them as slots," Ripley said.
Backers said they hope the new game would help attract some new customers and bring back some of the ones missing from casino and bars since the recession started and since the ban on indoor smoking at these establishments took effect Oct. 1, 2009.
"I think it's something new," Ripley said. "I think it will help get some new clients."
Neil Peterson, executive director the Gaming Industry Association, said state tax revenues from video gambling machines have dropped by $15 million. That means net receipts for video gambling are $100 million lower for Montana casinos and bars.
"And it doesn't look like it's improving," he said. "We need something to bring back customers."
In video line games, after a gambler puts in the money, a series of numbers or symbols would automatically appear across the screen and couldn't be changed. A gambler would win if the numbers or symbols matched.
However, the game also could include five rows and five columns of numbers or symbols. A player could win if the same five numbers or symbols appeared on a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line across the screen.
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There is no skill involved in this game, just as there is no skill involved in electronic keno, Peterson said. A random number generator produces the numbers and then a computer determines if the player wins.
Peterson said the maximum bet would remain $2 and the maximum payout $800.
However, he said a player would be able to bet on multiple lines, so long as the bet didn't total more than $2. So someone could bet a nickel per line and bet on 10 lines, all on the same screen, he said.
The bill says the payout for winning would range from 80 percent to 92 percent of the money paid into the machine.
Ronda Wiggers, representing the Montana Coin Operators Association, said electronic poker and keno have been the only machine games people have been able to play in Montana bars and casinos since the 1980s.
People are looking for more variety of electronic gaming, she said.
"You can only watch the same movie so many times," Wiggers said.
No one envisioned how technology would take off, she said, nor did anyone envision that people could download blackjack games on the Android phones.
"We're trying to add some innovation and new entertainment to our businesses," she said.
Peterson said he supports the bill to help an industry that has suffered.
"If we don't get some additional business for these locations, I think we're going to have a situation where a lot of people are going to have to close, and people would be left unemployed," Peterson said. "Whether you for gambling or against gambling, that's their jobs."
He said economic studies have shown about 26,000 Montanans work in casinos and bars.
"If people lose their jobs, and businesses shut down, it's less tax revenues for the local government," he said.