Montana Lawmakers Score Big Win, As Small Gaming Taverns Qualify for PPP Loans

Posted on: April 15, 2020, 06:31h. 

Last updated on: April 15, 2020, 11:39h.

Few gaming states celebrated Tuesday’s announcement by the US Department of Treasury that officially expanded the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan initiatives for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. However, Montana’s gaming establishments certainly had reason to celebrate.

Montana gaming PPP loans
Montana lawmakers fought for changes in an SBA loan program that would make small taverns that offered gaming devices eligible for COVID-19 relief. (Image: Roberts Bar and BBQ)

On Tuesday, the federal government changed the rule regarding gaming income for PPP loans. Previously, any business that generated more than a third of its revenue from gaming could not apply for the program designed to help small businesses keep employees on their payroll during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new rule capped gaming revenue at $1 million for 2019. However, gaming revenue cannot exceed half of the total income for the business.

So, why is this good news for Montana?

Most gaming states license casinos that generate the majority of their revenues from offering hundreds of slots and possibly table games. While Montana does have 13 tribal casinos and 150 card rooms, it also has 1,418 taverns and other businesses that offer electronic gaming devices, according to the American Gaming Association. Those licensed businesses have about 17,500 machines, or an average of 12.4 games per location.

Montana taxes those terminals at 15 percent, and for the 2019 calendar year, according to the state Department of Justice, it collected $63.8 million. That works out to a combined gaming revenue of $425.3 million.

Based on that, the average gaming income of Montana’s licensees was just less than $300,000 last year.

So, if a Montana tavern made $700,000 in total revenue last year, and $300,000 came from gaming, it was ineligible for a PPP loan under the old rule.

Now, however, it qualifies.

Montana Elected Leaders Elated

While one Nevada lawmaker lambasted the move, all three members of Montana’s Congressional delegation issued statements Tuesday hailing the change.

US Sen. Jon Tester (D) noted that the previous gaming provision would have kept many of the state’s small businesses that offer more products than just gaming from getting the assistance they need to keep the doors open.

Montana’s Main Street taverns are important small businesses that provide jobs and food, especially in frontier communities,” Tester said. “I’m glad the Administration heard us loud and clear and reversed course, giving these employers much-needed relief as we deal with the effects of COVID-19.”

Republicans US Sen. Steve Daines and US Rep. Greg Gianforte also applauded the move. While Tester contacted SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza, Daines and Gianforte both sent letters to President Trump asking for his help.

Daines said the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted more than 40,000 jobs in the state.

“I fought hard to ensure Montana’s taverns and bars are eligible for the same relief as other small businesses across the state to keep their workers employed,” Daines said. “I’m glad the Small Business Administration acted quickly on my request to protect jobs and get this done for Montana workers.”

Is It Too Late?

The question now becomes, is there enough time and money left for Montana’s taverns?

When Congress passed the $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief package last month, it included $349 billion for the PPP loan program. The SBA opened the application process earlier this month, and small businesses clamoring for assistance have pounced on the opportunity for the first-come, first-served funding.

According to the American Bankers Association, as of Monday, more than 1 million PPP loans have been approved for a total of $248 billion.

Small businesses with no more than 500 employees are eligible to apply. They can qualify for a loan that would cover two-and-a-half months of payroll, with a cap of $10 million. The loan is forgivable if businesses use at least three-quarters of it to cover payroll. The remainder can be used to cover rent, utility, and other essential costs.

Trump has been calling for an extension of the program, requesting another $250 billion to be added when Congress takes up the next COVID-19 relief package. However, with the House of Representatives not expected to reconvene until next month, it may be several weeks before that round of funding becomes available.

“Money is going out,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “It’s been a tremendous program, really. It’s been, and obviously it was at a point where we’re almost… the money will be expired, and we could use a refill for the workers. We want to be able to make sure that small businesses stay open.”