The building of a new Town Pump Casino in the Billings Heights has recently been approved by the Billings City Council; a nod that was met with groans online.

More than 1,400 licensed gambling operations, with 16,000 video gambling machines, call Montana home. In Yellowstone County alone 149 gambling operations can be found, making for an extremely competitive industry. But that, Dennis Benson says, is part of America. Benson’s wife Jessie and he own The Warden Casino in Billings. Former Minnesotans, the couple came to Montana to pursue the business, which didn’t happen overnight. Casino owner hopefuls need to know how to draw customer in as well as retain their business, according to Rick Ask, state gambling administrator.

Liquor licenses, which are under quota, are required of every gambling licensee. While the market price for a full liquor license would run you upwards of $1 million less than 10 years ago, that price has decreased, but can still cost more than $500,000. Benson said casino startups require a lot of money upfront.

People in Montana love to gamble, as indicated by the revenue, and there are gambling establishments in every county in the state to requite that love. Players spent $29 million, last year at this time, in the first half of the fiscal year. That number is approaching $33 million, so far this fiscal year, according to the Gambling Control Division. Meanwhile, there are 148 gambling applications on the state’s desk.

The business is a gamble though, with daily revenue from a machine ranging from $10 to $160, which averages out to $70 from all machines. However you slice it, 15 percent or $60 million a year, of the gross proceeds from machines, goes back to the state. A majority of it goes back to local governments, says Ask.

Currently, the Town Pump Casino brand includes Montana Lee’s Casino/Lee’s 27th Street Saloon in Billings, Magic Diamond Casino in Miles City, and  Lucky Lil’s Casino in three locations.

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