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A bill that would let Montanans participate in "minimal value" online fantasy sports got support at its first hearing before the Senate Business, Labor, and Economic Affairs committee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 25, brought by Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell, at the request of the Department of Justice, would allow for online fantasy sports leagues that charge no more than a $35 entry fee and are played for prizes of minimal value such as T-shirts, continue for the length of the season, and don’t charge for draft picks or trades.

The definition of "minimal value" would be set by rules written by the Department of Justice, said Angela Nunn, operations bureau chief at the Gambling Control Division of the department.

The change was made at the request of Rep. Forrest Mandeville, R-Columbus, who offered a bill last session that would have allowed Montanans to participate in online fantasy leagues that cost less than $100 to join. It faced opposition during a committee hearing and was tabled.

No one spoke in opposition to or support of that part of the bill.

Another change in SB25 would let nonprofits hold raffles as part of their fundraising operations. In early 2016, the Gambling Control Division of the Department of Justice sent letters to several nonprofit organizations saying it was aware of “various fundraising activities offered by certain nonprofit organizations in the state that are in violation of Montana’s gambling laws and rules. These activities appear to be occurring at annual dinners, fundraising events and business meetings.”

Current state law prohibits “gift enterprises,” which includes selling raffle tickets, but the bill would change the definition of gift enterprises to allow raffles. It would also let nonprofits sell raffle tickets online.

Tom Figarelle, the vice president of Special Olympics Montana, said the change would help his organization raise more money and the online component would free up athletes or help those who struggle with speech issues.

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“Being able to sell raffle tickets online gives us an efficiency,” he said. “The No. 1 barrier to us doing more is money. We need more funds, and this can open up a chance for us to raise more money.”

Figarelle and others representing nonprofits said they would be open to registering with the state, a suggested amendment to the bill.

Other changes would allow for prosecution of certain types of machine tampering and fix issues with common ownership laws that were originally meant to prevent license stacking but can hinder gambling operators who are relatives but have separate businesses, Nunn said.

The bill would also let credit unions offer raffles to members who would win a prize by depositing money into their savings accounts.

The bill came out of Gaming Advisory Council, an interim committee that works with the Department of Justice Gaming Control Division.

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