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Gambling madness in Montana

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I envisioned wonderful nature and big mountains when I planned the trip to Montana, but there's one thing about the landscape of this State that totally surprised me. I had no idea there are so many casinos, so I was immediately shocked when I left the airport and saw the bright, flashy signs light up the night scenery. For a brief moment, I thought I mistakenly landed in Las Vegas! My home base during the trip was the capital city Helena, which has less than 30,000 residents. The sparse population makes Montana unique. The State is massive in size, with less than a million people spread over the land. I began to wonder why such an uninhabited region needs so many casinos around every corner...and I'm still not sure of the answer.

1. On one of the main streets in Helena, you can find casinos lined up one after the other. Sometimes five or six of them at a busy intersection, and even gas stations or laundromats will have a few slot machines where people can throw coins to waste time. It seems the legislators and Gaming authorities have made it quite easy to get licenses for slots, so many dive bars and gas stations use the machines as a way to boost revenues. There are less than ten big casinos in Montana, all tied to Indian reservations, but the number of video gaming machines is close to 20,000! I have no idea how many of these small casinos exist in the State, but they seem to be everywhere.

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2. Unlike Vegas, free alcohol isn't the norm at most Helena casinos, and you can't smoke inside! This is a positive in my view because I'm sensitive to cigarette smoke, and smoking indoors is prohibited almost everywhere in the USA. Vegas casinos are a rare exception where you can still light up and puff away in an enclosed public space. Another major difference - in Montana you only have to be 18 to gamble, not 21. So, the debauchery can begin at a much earlier age, right after graduation from high school. When I worked for the airlines, I used to go to Vegas quite frequently and play blackjack, roulette and the slots. My luck was pretty consistent, and I came out a loser only a few times. Almost always I left with more money in my pocket than when I arrived, but I haven't gambled in over a decade. Now I'm much more frugal with finances, and almost all spare funds go directly to travel.

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3. The casinos have standard slot machines and you can only play with cash - no credit, debit cards or any type of loan from the house. One of the thrills of the slots for me was hearing the loud crashing sound of the coins fall into the empty metal pan at the bottom of the machine when you hit a jackpot or winning line, but in Montana it's boring. There is no type of instant coin or cash payout, instead a receipt is generated and you carry it to the cashier to receive your winnings. Less exciting, but it seems most casinos in the U.S. have now moved to this approach.

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4. The most important thing to understand is the scope of gambling in Montana. This is not the glitz and glamour of Vegas, or the chance to press your luck with the hope of instantly becoming a millionaire. First, there are no table games where you play against a dealer. Montana allows only electronic machines, video poker, keno and bingo machines. The max bet on Indian reservations is $5, with a max payout of $1500. This is chump change compared to Vegas, where the potential for huge losses and earnings is much higher. Second, casinos in Vegas are frequently tied to hotels, some of them quite luxurious, and as I wrote above in Montana the casinos are often at restaurants, gas stations, laundromats or other mundane locations. Different, less inviting, atmospheres. Live bingo, where you play against others but not against the house, is also legal and very popular.

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I think this many casinos and shady gambling establishments are detrimental to such a beautiful State! They take away from the otherwise pristine natural landscapes, where even in cities you can almost always see the mountains in the background. I don't know why there are so many of these establishments, but I guess it's because options for entertainment are quite limited in such rural areas, which describes basically every "city" and location in Montana. People need a way to occupy their time, and for some there's always the false hope of striking it rich. Yet such hopes often lead to gambling and alcohol addictions, and we all know that in reality the house always wins - not the general population who sit and feed coins and dollar bills into the slot.

The only good thing that comes from the casinos is the tax revenue. Montana imposes a 15% tax on the money paid into the slot machines, minus the money paid out in winnings. In 2015, this generated close to sixty million dollars to the general State fund, and hopefully these finances go to improve the quality of life for residents of the region.

I've never noticed casinos during my visits to Russia, but I read online they exist. Do you support legalized gambling, or like to press your luck at the slots and tables?


Comments

( 52 comments — Leave a comment )
10_4
Mar. 7th, 2016 02:55 pm (UTC)
Diamond Jim's hoagies, guns and slots :)))

Edited at 2016-03-07 02:56 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 03:56 pm (UTC)
This is so American! :)) People sit at these slots for hours, so of course they need a hoagie and beer. Not sure how guns fit into the equation, but you never know. This is Montana. :)
(no subject) - 10_4 - Mar. 7th, 2016 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 7th, 2016 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Mar. 8th, 2016 04:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 8th, 2016 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Mar. 9th, 2016 02:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Mar. 8th, 2016 04:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
white_walker
Mar. 7th, 2016 02:57 pm (UTC)
In Russia casinos are prohibited except several places for whole country already 10 years. Sometimes police closes illegal casinos.
I don't believe in blind luck but I play poker with friends every week. Never was in casino )
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 03:58 pm (UTC)
I read an article about a huge casino in the Far East, but I didn't realize casinos are prohibited in most places. The article said gaming/gambling laws in Russia are "grey areas," and there'a s lot of underground gaming. Do you bet with money when you play poker with friends, or bet with pretzels? :)
(no subject) - white_walker - Mar. 7th, 2016 06:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 7th, 2016 06:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - white_walker - Mar. 8th, 2016 01:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 8th, 2016 01:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
moskitow
Mar. 7th, 2016 03:53 pm (UTC)
Interesting.....I wonder why do they have so many?
When my mom was visiting me in America I took her to a casino and it was so funny. She thought that only immoral reach people go to the casino (that's what she was taught by the soviet union propaganda) It was an effort to convince her to enter the place. She was very surprised to see a crowd of retirees there. I took a picture of her playing slot machines, so now I have "compromat"(compromising materials) on her :)
The nature scenes are breathtaking! I love the mountains in the background.
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 04:00 pm (UTC)
Funny. :) I wouldn't say there's one demographic for gamblers. I've seen all types, and especially the old seniors like to sit at the slots with their cups full of nickels or pennies. On my cruise ship in Alaska, these old people occupied the entire casino floor. I will have a big post about Montana with lots of nature pics, but it seems no one is on LJ today, so I'll wait to publish it on a non-holiday. Do you still celebrate 8 March, even though you're in the U.S. now?
(no subject) - moskitow - Mar. 7th, 2016 04:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 7th, 2016 05:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
andrey_kaminsky
Mar. 7th, 2016 04:47 pm (UTC)
Век живи - век учись
When i have visited the Macao and seen casinos stuffed with chinese people i was a bit surprised.
Before that i has made an opinion that neither alcohol nor prostitution nor beaches are not able to interest the chinese people on vacation, the only Chinese people's weakness is the seafood and selfie with fingers spread wide. But after Macau i realized that the casino is the Achilles heel of the chinese communists.
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 05:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Век живи - век учись
Did you win, or you just watched the Chinese for ethnographic research? :) I wrote a short post for you today, I hope you appreciate it. Apparently my Russian readers have no opinions on gambling.
yarowind
Mar. 7th, 2016 06:44 pm (UTC)
When I was in Las Vegas I lost 1$, and decided - that was enough:)
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 06:58 pm (UTC)
I agree. It's hard to throw hard-earned money away, with only a small chance you will get something back in return. This is why using money for travel or other personal pleasures is the wiser choice. :)
(no subject) - yarowind - Mar. 8th, 2016 08:23 am (UTC) - Expand
siberian_cat
Mar. 7th, 2016 06:59 pm (UTC)
I suppose it's the only chance for the poor folk to get rich. People don't believe in "success through hard work" principle anymore, it's not working. Who plays Powerball and other lotteries? Low-income people, minimum-wage workers, pensioners.
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 07:21 pm (UTC)
Even I play the Powerball when the jackpot gets massive. :) But, you're right, the poor the State, it seems the more casinos and liquor stores.
(no subject) - theodorexxx - Mar. 7th, 2016 07:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
theodorexxx
Mar. 7th, 2016 07:32 pm (UTC)
Those casinos are for entertainment, not for great losses. Aren't they? They don't look luxury or vain
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 07:38 pm (UTC)
Have you ever played slots? It's quite easy to have a loss very quickly if you're betting the max and having no luck! Two or five dollars each time you push the button to spin the machine, which takes only a few seconds. It's easy to be out $100 - $200 in less than an hour. These casinos aren't luxurious at all. They look like total holes in the wall and dumps. I only saw them when they were attached to restaurants and I was there eating.
(no subject) - theodorexxx - Mar. 7th, 2016 07:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 7th, 2016 07:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
irisha8787
Mar. 7th, 2016 08:12 pm (UTC)
I remember when being in college in Russia saw s bunch of slot-like machines at the bus station (vokzal)
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 11:41 pm (UTC)
In Vegas, there are slots all over the airport but I've never been to a bus station. They probably have them there too. :)
pin_gwin
Mar. 7th, 2016 09:07 pm (UTC)
One of our managers was going to gamble almost every lunch break.... he was addicted, for sure. Lately they fired him, as they found his personal porn pics while IT was transferring files form his old PC to a new one. Poor thing. I feel guilty - I helped him to recover these very images from his old personal home PC hard drive, and I saw what were they.... he likely forgot to wipe them out of his work PC....
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 11:40 pm (UTC)
Is gambling popular in Minnesota? Why would he download porn on a work device? :)) Never understood this, unless he had no home computer. Poor guy. I have all kinds of porn on my work computer, but I have to look at it for my job, not pleasure. And all firewalls are lifted from my work system because I need access to sites that would otherwise be blocked.
(no subject) - pin_gwin - Mar. 7th, 2016 11:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Mar. 7th, 2016 11:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pin_gwin - Mar. 8th, 2016 12:03 am (UTC) - Expand
yacc11
Mar. 7th, 2016 10:16 pm (UTC)
I think Vegas is much more attractive :)

And you know - almost everyone has asked me 'How much have you spend in gambling in Vegas?'
My answer pretty confuses my friends - 'Just one dollar' :) I have some free time before boarding and I decided to spend one dollar just to try... And I did not win :) I'm not a fun of gambling :)

Edited at 2016-03-07 10:27 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 11:37 pm (UTC)
Vegas is entirely different. We even have Atlantic City on the East Coast, which is full of decent and big casinos, but after you've been to Vegas the rest of these areas just seem pathetic. You weren't in Vegas very long. I'm certain you would have been tempted to waste a few more dollars in the slots if you stayed longer. :)
(no subject) - yacc11 - Mar. 8th, 2016 08:56 am (UTC) - Expand
g_kar
Mar. 7th, 2016 10:58 pm (UTC)
>I've never noticed casinos during my visits to Russia, but I read online they exist. Do you support legalized gambling, or like to press your luck at the slots and tables?

Casinos were banned in Russia 2008 (presumably in connection to Russian-Georgian war, as many casinos were owned by Georgians). There are 4 gambling-zones with exceptions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambling_in_Russia) - government planned that these will turn into small Las-Vegases, but the idea failed spectacularly.

In short, poorer people gamble in illegal places all over country (some of such places are ruin by corrupted officials - goo.gl/6ECZjs); middle-class fly to Minsk, Belarus (gambling is legal there, and it's a big city with lots of things to do, contrary to Russian gambling zones in the middle if nowhere), rich people fly to Monako, Las-Vegas, etc.

I personally do not gamble (and never did), as I am a very boring person and do not like to risk my money :) I do support legalized gambling, however. Despite all connected problems, it's better than illegal alternative.
peacetraveler22
Mar. 7th, 2016 11:35 pm (UTC)
Russians frequently warn me about Georgians. :)) A few months ago someone told me a lot of Russian mobsters come from Georgia, and now I learn they ran the casinos in Russia. Why were they owned by Georgians and not local Russian businessmen? I'm too cheap now to gamble. I don't like to waste money and would rather spend it on more certain things, where I know the potential for enjoyment and positive results in high. Like travel, pedicures or nice photo shoots for myself. :)
creaze
Mar. 8th, 2016 01:55 pm (UTC)
I don't get it,

Why would someone, who already made it to such a cool place, wanna waste time inside a club playing videogames, instead of grab a tent and go hiking?
peacetraveler22
Mar. 8th, 2016 01:56 pm (UTC)
Good question. :) But I think many of the locals can't even appreciate the beauty of Montana. For instance, when I was on the Indian reservation, I constantly commented about the scenic backgrounds and the natives never responded or affirmed my statements.
anna_sollanna
Mar. 11th, 2016 03:43 pm (UTC)
> Do you support legalized gambling, or like to press your luck at the slots and tables?
Yes, I support legalized gambling, though I don't value it myself. And not because I don't believe casino's owners but because I think to hit the jackpot is a very hardly probable good event, and chances of such events in your life are not very high to waste them on jackpots. ;)
> smoking indoors is prohibited almost everywhere in the USA
And what about e-cigarettes? Are they allowed to be smoked indoors?
peacetraveler22
Mar. 11th, 2016 10:25 pm (UTC)
E-cigs are now also banned from almost all indoor establishments, airplanes, etc.
( 52 comments — Leave a comment )

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