City questions the need for more casinos

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Several members of the Missoula City Council suggested Wednesday that the number of local casinos had reached a saturation point, leaving in question the future of another casino proposed for North Reserve Street.

Concerns that local casinos were snatching up coveted all-beverage licenses also came up.

Jeffrey Jones, represented by Michael Cabe of Merrick Lentz Architect, submitted an application for a conditional use to open a tavern and casino at 2413 N. Reserve St. The existing 3,303-square-foot building used to house the Radio Shack and is attached to Outback Steakhouse.

The city’s Development Services has recommended the project’s approval, saying it meets the district’s zoning standards, along with recommendations set forth in the city’s growth policy.

While the project didn’t receive a vote Wednesday, members of the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee were underwhelmed by the proposal for another casino.

“I can see no reason to object to this, but I just kind of want to,” said Ward 6 council member Michelle Cares. “Is there a saturation clause in any of our laws saying we have too many casinos?”

While there isn’t such a city law, City Attorney Jim Nugent said state law regulates the number of liquor licenses, as well as beer and wine licenses. The proposed casino would include a small tavern and the owner currently possesses an all-beverage license.

“State law regulates the number or casinos, or all-beverage licenses, as well as beer and wine licenses,” Nugent said. “We still have restaurants that don’t have alcohol and they want it. It’s all regulated by state law and you’re not allowed to set caps based on how many licenses may exist.”

As of 2015, Missoula had roughly 78 all-beverage licenses and 39 beer and wine licenses. The allotment is based upon the city’s population.

Montana is one of only 17 states in the U.S. that has a liquor control or quota system, according to the Montana Tavern Association.

Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins suggested the city should take note of state law when considering casinos as a conditional use.

“If you look at Reserve Street, there’s two or three casinos every block all the way down to Broadway,” Wilkins said. “I don’t know how they stay in business with so many of them. If there’s a state law, we need to start looking at that.”

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