Gambling Money: Where Does it Go? - KULR-8 Television, Billings, MT

Gambling Money: Where Does it Go?

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BILLINGS - It's a multi-million dollar industry, and every year Montanans lose big. Whether you win or lose, there are benefits for all Montanans.

Believe it or not, Montanans spent nearly $380 million at video-game gambling machines in 2013. Before you say, 'what a waste,' a portion of those funds pay for services you use every day. Twenty dollars can buy a few groceries, about a half a tank of gas, or provide a little entertainment with the hopes of winning big. But, what happens when you stick it into a machine and lose? About three of those twenty dollars goes into the state's general fund to pay for services like paving roads, paying salaries for police officers, and keeping Montana's air clean. A portion goes back to gamblers. "They get a certain percentage of their money back. It just comes in a different form," Palagio's Owner, Jason Palagi said.

The Montana Gaming Industry Association Vice-President, Jason Palagi, said the Yellowstone County Tavern Association also donates a sizeable portion of its revenue to fund programs like the Montana Meth Project, the Big Sky Honor Flight, and even buying new gear for firefighters. The remainder is reinvested into casinos through new games, staff payroll, or promotional events for dedicated gamblers. "It's fun. It's a people-person driven business. It's just fun to see all the different faces. Obviously you have a couple cocktails with some friends. It's one of the gathering places here in Billings. I just like it, because it's a people place," Palagi said.

Amusement Services Owner, Tim Carson, said the 1,600 state casino operators are more of a measuring stick to the local economy than a financial sinkhole for the community. "We're trying to pay our bills every day just like everybody else is. Everybody thinks it's such a great industry, but it's just like any other business," Carson said.

With nearly 19,000 machines to choose from throughout the state, gamblers like, Levi Longmire, said nothing beats the rush of winning. "You win that first $800, and you just keep wanting to play," Longmire said.

But, when he loses, he says, "It's a downer, but that's why it's called gambling. If you didn't have that, they would call it winning."

Each week, casino owners are required to report profits to the Department of Justice, and every year, owners must renew licenses at $220 per machine. According to the Department of Revenue, the video-gambling machine tax collections make up three percent of Montana's $1.8 billion general fund. Casino owners say video gambling is the most regulated industry in the entire state.

According to the Department of Revenue, a portion of the video-game licensing fees goes back to the county the machine is located. In Yellowstone County, that number contributes nearly $16,000 to the sheriff's department.

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