Montana measure proposes removal of state’s cap on poker cash-game pots

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: January 14, 2023 10:58 pm EST

Montana’s state legislature will soon consider an amendment to existing state gambling law that would remove the cap that currently exists on cash-game pots in the state’s poker rooms. At the present time, no-limit hold’em is widely played, but action is capped at $800 for any given pot.

House Bill 209, introduced on Wednesday by State Rep. Ron Marshall, would change that. Marshall’s brief bill would allow cash games in the state to be played for true table stakes — that is, for the entire amount of money that any player has on the table.

Montana’s capped live-poker action dates to 1972, when the state first legalized several forms of gambling. It’s one of several states that originally legalized poker but with a cap on the amount of money that could be wagered; Colorado and Florida, when originally legalizing live poker, were among the states with similar restrictions.

“This would allow a card room owner to successfully have a true no-limit game. Meaning, table stakes. The money on the table is what’s being played for. This is more of a freedom bill when it comes to that,” Rep. Marshall stated in the initial hearing for the bill on Thursday, before the Montana House Business and Labor Committee. Besides removing the cap on cash-game pots, Marshall’s proposal would also make some modifications to the state’s charitable-gaming laws.

No voting action was taken on the bill in Thursday’s meeting, and the proposal has generated some opposition. According to a Montana Public Radio report on the hearing, the Montana Gaming Industry Association’s Shauna Helfert already voiced opposition to the bill, citing its intent as a safeguard against problem gambling, among other issues. “Somebody could get at a poker table and they got in the heat of the moment and just kept on betting and betting and betting and there would be no limit and they could lose their farm,” Helfert claimed.

Rep. Marshall reassured the committee that such a scenario was highly unlikely, since a problem gambler’s action would be limited to cash on hand; unlike in the movies, farm deeds don’t play.

The $800 cap also, in theory, frees Montana’s rooms from any tax-reporting requirements for players who log major wins, but the cap also slows down the action. Any time the cumulative betting pushes the pot over $800, the hand action has to paused, the last round of betting backed out, and the total pot and last bets recalculated so that the pot doesn’t exceed $800. The existing cap has an increased impact on larger-blind games and can turn them into short-stacked jamfests.

No vote was taken or is scheduled as yet for HB 209.