Missoula City Council approves new North Reserve casino

By Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current

Saying they have no control over the number of casinos, only over their location, Missoula City Council members on Monday unanimously approved the new Big Sky Casino on North Reserve Street.

Sharing a building with Outback Steakhouse, the casino and tavern met all legal requirements for approval, according to Jenny Baker of Development Services.

The building previously housed a Radio Shack store.

At a committee meeting last week, council members decried the number of casinos already in Missoula and wondered why any more are needed.

A citizen at Monday night’s meeting echoed those concerns.

“Here we go again with another casino,” said Kandi Mathew-Jenkins. “As responsible adults, we should be looking out for our children. We’re setting up a fertile field for whatever goes in this town.”

But Ward 4 Councilman John DiBari said the City Council has no purview over the number of local casinos.

“It’s a land use decision,” he said. “We have a choice of where they are located, not over how many there are.”

Added Ward 6 Councilwoman Michelle Cares: “There is no way for us to say we have too many casinos. … And this is probably in the best location it could be, given the development on the North Reserve strip.”

Cares had earlier lamented the overabundance of casinos in the city limits, and told committee members last week that she would like to vote against the conditional use request – although she knew it met all standards for approval.

On Monday night, she asked city attorney Jim Nugent to explain to the audience how state law governs the number of casino licenses.

His explanation: Within the city limits, Missoula has five licenses for the first 3,000 population, then one license for each additional 1,500 in population.

Outside the city, state law allows one casino per 750 residents, and licenses within a five-mile radius can be transferred into the city.