After Butte (Mont.) Country Club was fined $2,000 and made to shut down its poker machines following a raid by the Montana Department of Justice’s Gambling Control Division, a state representative garnered bipartisan support for a bill that is now awaiting the governor’s signature. The DOJ is opposing the bill, however, as too much of a deviation from other authorized gambling activities.
Prompted by a dice-game bust at the Butte (Mont.) Country Club in November 2018, a Montana state legislator has pushed a bill through both the state House and Senate that would legalize the dice game cee-lo in bars and other places that sell alcohol, The Sun Times of Fairfield, Mont. reported. The bill is now on its way to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk and its author, Rep. Ryan Lynch (D-Butte) told The Sun Times that he is hopeful it will be signed into law.
“We are cautiously optimistic the governor will sign the bill based on the bipartisan support for it and the protection of licensed liquor holders,” Rep. Ryan Lynch, D-Butte, said on March 18.
Lynch filed the bill in response to a dice-game bust made by the Montana Department of Justice’s Gambling Control Division at Butte CC on November 21, 2018, the day before Thanksgiving, The Sun Times reported. The bill passed the House 84-13 in February and the Senate 28-20 on March 15.
State investigators said they found patrons playing a cee-lo dice game at Butte CC with thousands of dollars at stake, so the club was fined $2,000 and had to shut down its poker machines for three weeks, The Sun Times reported.
Lynch told The Sun Times he didn’t know specifics of the incident or how much money was involved when he filed the bill, but said that in his opinion the state’s response was heavy-handed and leveled unfairly against the club when it had no involvement in the game.
A Butte CC bartender told investigators he knew it was going on and the club’s General Manager, Jeff Briney, admitted that some members played the dice game from time to time, The Sun Times reported. But both said they didn’t know it was illegal, and according to a settlement with the Gambling Control Division, “no facts suggest the Butte Country Club directly operated or profited from the game.”
The settlement agreement made with the club also included a stipulation that the club cannot allow unauthorized dice games.
Rep. Lynch’s bill got bipartisan support in both of the Montana legislative chambers, with 15 Republicans and 13 Democrats backing it on the final Senate vote in early March, The Sun Times reported. Fourteen Republicans and six Democrats voted against it, and two attempts to amend the bill were soundly rejected.
“It’s through the legislative process and has one more step,” Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, a Butte Democrat who sponsored Lynch’s bill in the Senate, told The Sun Times. “It got good support, and we’re real pleased to get it done.”
But the state Department of Justice has opposed the bill, The Sun Times reported, saying the game at the club that night involved thousands of dollars and, if allowed, would be too much of a deviation from all other authorized gambling activities.
Montana law currently allows the dice game “shake-a-day” to be played at places licensed to sell alcohol, if customers pay 50 cents or less only once each day. Establishments can limit the amount that can be won and use remaining money to start a pot for a new game, but all money must be paid out in winnings.
Under Lynch’s bill, all customers must agree on the rules before playing cee-lo, and all must be 18 or older.
Butte Country Club was established in 1899 as the first country club in the state, according to the club’s website.