Too Many Casinos

Many people say the City must do something about too many casinos in this town.

The first thing I ask an anti-casino person who drinks alcohol is this: have you ever protested a new bar?


Oh, so it’s the other guy’s vice you aren’t comfortable with. Because I can make an argument that alcohol causes and has caused at least as many problems as the anti-casino folks say gambling causes, but so many people are fine with alcohol, as opposed to gambling, because they like to drink.

If you listen to people in this town, or read comments at the Tribune website or on Facebook, you would think that Great Falls, alone in Montana, is simply overrun with gambling. The facts do not bear that out.

Look at the Montana Gambling Control Division’s 2015-2016 Biannual Report, and you will find statistics for what are apparently the 19 largest cities in Montana. Turn to the appendix, and you can see how much gambling there is available in Great Falls compared to the rest of the state.

The average of the 19 largest communities shows that there are 23.99 gaming machines per 1000 residents. In Great Falls, the number is 23.978 gaming machines per 1000 residents. In other words, we are slightly less than average. Billings, the largest city in the state has 23.53 machines per 1000 residents, slightly lower than us. Helena is at 22.37 per 1000, while Kalispell is 29.16 and Whitefish is 25.59.

Bozeman and Missoula both have fewer machines per 1000 residents than we do, a fact that might be explained by the additional fact that a significant portion of their population is made up of young college students who lack the money to gamble. (Of course, if you import 13,000 to 16,000 college age kids into Great Falls every year, we probably wouldn’t be having an economic development discussion either.) Or, maybe those towns are growing past their license quota, and Great Falls never did?

The point, though, is not that Great Falls has too many machines or too few, but merely that arguments you read suggesting that we are some kind of outlier gambling mecca are simply false.

Those same arguments also often point to 10th Avenue South, “Holy cow, you drive down tenth and it’s just casino after casino.” Again, this is not fair argument; put another way, this is by design. You might recall back in the early Oughts that the City spent $80,000.00 on a new zoning code. Well, this code so restricted the available locations for licenses, 10th Avenue South became one of the few places in town where one could even open a bar or casino. So, don’t be surprised that the casinos cluster on 10th. Instead, blame your then-City Commission.

One more point: If the City Commission limits zoning due to the possibility of casinos, and if that’s because the Commissioners just don’t like gambling, the City Commission is not doing its job. You see, gambling is legal. The mere fact that someone is engaging in a legal activity that you do not prefer should not even be considered in this discussion. What if your occupation is next? I would suggest that the majority of casinos are operated by local people, including me and my partners. I was born and raised here, and invested with family members in an industry that our family has been involved in for several generations.

The City has limited the locations of casinos. The City has limited the signage of casinos. The City cannot simply overrule state law.

If you don’t like gaming, your issue is with the legislature, not the City Commission. Otherwise, I think you should stop demonizing your fellow citizens who have invested their money in a legal industry.

Gregg Smith
Gregg Smith
Gregg Smith is a Great Falls attorney and businessperson. He writes a monthly column for the Great Falls Tribune.


  1. Amen, Gregg. I just don’t understand why people seem to enjoy complaining about the # of casinos — I don’t gamble and have never gone into a casino for the purpose of gambling, but I really don’t care if there are casinos and casinos and signs along 10th Avenue South (etc).

    There are also lots of (for example) plenty of bars and auto-related businesses along 10th Avenue South, and I’m very unlikely to ever do business with any of them, either, but I have no problem with them being there.

  2. Thanks for this post. I have only been here 5 years and the large number of casinos was something that struck me when I moved here. Now with a fresh perspective I understand that they (what appears to be a majority) may have been forced to locate along the only major business corridor in town. It’s unfortunate that zoning may be the real devil here.

    I would fully support rezoning the town to allow more neighborhood businesses like corner bars, convenience stores, or whatever. People don’t like having to drive across town for simple things that used to be within walking distance. This isn’t Chicago but there is no reason our neighborhoods can’t be as diverse with locals supporting local businesses.

    Many of the best places (in other cities) are buried in a neighborhood where you have to park on the street and walk a couple blocks, not on the main drag with big signs and bigger parking lots.

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  4. Did anybody else notice what Mr. Gregg Smith did in his article? He raises the question of whether there are too many gambling *casinos* in this town compared with other Montana towns and then provides the reader with statistics about the amount of gambling *machines* in the town. Mr. Smith is a smart businessman and attorney, and likely knew the difference; importantly, the numbers were right before him to calculate the actual value of *casinos* per 1,000 residents and yet Mr. Smith chose instead to report out numbers about *machines* per 1,000. According to the figures in the cited Biennial report (which are actually skewed positively toward Great Falls because 2015 population is reported for 2016 numbers–and Great Falls is the slowest growing of the five biggest cities) Great Falls has 1.54 casinos per 1,000 residents, while Billings has 1.22 per 1,000, Missoula has 1.14 per 1,000, Bozeman has the lowest at .81 per 1,000, and Helena the 2nd highest at 1.37 per 1,000. Look at the figures in the report he cites–you’ll see that of Montana’s five biggest towns, we have more casinos per 1,000 residents than any of the five biggest. Don’t be fooled by obfuscated statistics, folks: there are in fact smaller towns with more casinos per 1,000, but of the towns in Montana with more than 10,000 residents, Great Falls stands alone as the town with the most!


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