Montana COVID-19 testing
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Montana COVID-19 testing lab
Boulder River Bridge view
Boulder River Bridge view
Combat Crochet
Combat Crochet
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Montana Governor Steve Bullock at Innovate Montana 2019
Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
Bikers and Hikers stranded at Mystic Lake Cabin
Goat Fire mapped at 300 acres
Goat Fire fought in rugged terrain
Goat Fire fought in rugged terrain
Griz management exceeds sustainable mortality rate
Griz management exceeds sustainable mortality rate

2021 saw a sharp increase in sports bets placed compared to 2020

Jan 10, 2022

 Sports betting is open in Montana, but the odds aren’t great for bettors. Basketball was the most bet on sport January through April. (JD Danny via Pexels.com)


After a tumultuous start due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the emergent Montana sports betting market picked up in 2021, with Montana bettors wagering $46 million through December 27.

The return of sports and the reopening of bars heading into 2021 meant the state could finally see how its product, Sports Bet Montana, would fare in a post-COVID lockdown world. And so far, it’s been a mixed bag: the amount bet in 2021 increased by $28 million compared to 2020, but the state is still offering substandard odds to its bettors.

Regardless of the odds, though, with more than $2 million wagered every month in 2021, it is clear Montanans have some level of appetite for sports betting. In total, through December 27, $46 million was wagered, and $40 million was paid out by the state in 2021, compared to $18 million wagered and $16 million paid out in 2020, according to Montana Lottery data.

“We launched in March of 2020 … we couldn’t have picked a worse time to launch a technology sports product in human history,” said communications manager Jennifer McKee earlier this month before she left the Montana Lottery. “In 2021, we started seeing the kinds of betting behavior that we were hoping to see. We had games to bet on, and we had the sports that Montanans really cared about.”

The most popular sports to bet on in 2021 followed the seasons of the country’s three dominant sports leagues: NFL, NBA and MLB. January through April, basketball was the most bet on sport; May through August was baseball; and September through December was football. And for Griz and Bobcat football, bettors seemed more confident in the Bobcats, betting $420,000 on the Bozeman team compared to $303,000 on the Griz, according to data from the Montana Lottery.

Between its debut in March of 2020 and January 3, the state has raked around $9 million of revenue. But it’s not just the state that is profiting. Because of the legislative framework of the bill that legalized sports betting in Montana, to place a bet, a sports bettor has to be near a sports betting kiosk. The kiosks are most commonly located in bars and casinos, which receive 6 percent of all bets placed — leaving them with $2.7 million of profit from sports betting in 2021.

And while McKee said 2021 was smooth sailing, the rollout of sports betting in Montana was rough for reasons beyond just COVID-19.

In 2019, former Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, vetoed a Republican sponsored sports betting bill that would have created more competition by allowing taverns and bars to offer their own sports betting options. Instead, he signed the Democrat-backed House Bill 725 into law, which gave control of sports betting to the state lottery.

And due to the bill’s monopolistic structure, Montana gamblers can only use Sports Bet Montana, which is run by third-party contractor Intralot, to place bets. Intralot has been the state’s long-time lottery vendor and received the sports-betting contract from the Montana Lottery in a controversial no-bid process.

Montana is one of the few places in the U.S. to use Intralot for sports betting, and in both Washington, D.C., and Montana, the company has been criticized for offering a lackluster product to its customers. Chief among the complaints are the poor odds provided to bettors. Instead of offering the industry-standard odds of -110, Sports Bet Montana often offers odds of -125 or -118 — meaning a bettor must wager $125 or $118 to win $100.

“I think the issues Montana has seen are not all dissimilar to other markets like Washington, D.C., where prices being offered are not competitive with offshore books or bookies who operate privately, which is going to limit the amount of revenue the state can bring in,” said Adam Candee, managing editor of Legal Sports Report.

With less than $10 million in revenue in two years, Candee said Montana is lagging behind what other states have seen after introducing sports betting. In just three months, Wyoming, which has an open market for sports betting, reported a handle, or amount of money wagered, of $28 million and revenue of $3 million, according to Wyoming state data.

“I think what we see in general as a national trend is states with an open market tend to see a higher betting handle and more betting revenue, which leads to more tax proceeds for the state,” Candee said.

And with a poor product, Candee said it is hard to draw bettors away from offshore betting sites or bookies. “The legal market has to make it enticing for those using the illegal market to come and use their product, and no one has been worse at doing that than Intralot,” Candee said.

However, McKee said that with more mouths to feed the profits from sports betting, Sports Bet Montana could not survive if it offered the same odds as Las Vegas.

“The law that’s behind Sports Bet Montana intended for the money to go three ways. Almost all of it goes back out to the bettor, of course, that’s true of any sportsbook. And then it goes to the state … but we split our share with the local bar,” she said. “So that’s one of the reasons that you see the Sports Bet Montana lines being different. Because in order for the local bar to get a significant piece of the pie, we had to cut the pie three ways instead of two. It’s not just the house and the bettor.”


The Montana Department of Transportation usually hires about 200 temporary winter plow truck drivers. This year they’ve only been able to hire 140.

COLUMBIA FALLS — As yet another winter storm wallops western Montana, the Montana Department of Transportation is trying its best to keep the 12,923 miles of road in its care clear of snow and ice. But this year, it’s doing that with about 60 fewer people than normal, thanks to a national labor shortage that continues to impact nearly every facet of life. 

Fewer drivers means fewer plow trucks on the roads, and that means roads might be snow-covered longer than normal following a big storm. State officials are asking drivers to use more caution when traveling because of that. 

“The roads will get plowed, it might just take a little longer than it did in the past,” said Walt Kerttula, equipment bureau chief for MDT in Helena. 

“The roads will get plowed, it might just take a little longer than it did in the past.”


Justun Juelfs, Kalispell area maintenance chief for MDT, said the driver shortage has changed how roads are plowed in his district, which stretches from Polson to the Canadian border and Marias Pass to the Idaho line. MDT’s Kalispell District traditionally runs three plowing shifts during the day: from 4 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. But with fewer drivers, Juelfs is putting more of an emphasis on staffing those morning shifts, when more people are on the road. MDT also focusing on the more heavily trafficked roads, so while U.S. Highway 2 from Kalispell to Columbia Falls might be getting plowed at its normal rate, it might take drivers more than a day to get up to the North Fork Road, which connects Columbia Falls and Polebridge along the west side of Glacier National Park. 

Juelfs said the Kalispell district usually relies on about 32 temporary drivers who are typically onboarded and ready to roll by Thanksgiving. But this year they’ve had to go through multiple recruiting rounds to get the drivers they need. He’s optimistic that they’ll have a fully staffed roster within a few weeks, about two months later than normal.

“It’s been taxing,” he said of the shortage. “Being short-staffed means we can’t offer the normal level of service we usually provide.”

While MDT has had trouble keeping its roads in the Kalispell area clear, it’s been a little closer to normal for Flathead County. Public Works Director Dave Prunty said the county doesn’t rely on seasonal workers to plow roads, so it hasn’t had the same hiring struggles. 

“We don’t have to get new guys every year,” he said. 

This week, Prunty was down two drivers — one was out sick with COVID-19 and the other had an injury — but he expected to be back to normal within a week or two, just in time for the next big storm. 



Most PBS and WORLD stations will carry ‘Trust Me’ on Friday

Jan 6, 2022

 The film poster of the documentary, “Trust Me” which was produced by Livingston-based Getting Better Foundation (Courtesy of Getting Better Foundation)


If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that this story isn’t directed at you. 


But a Montana organization and film that is winning a pile of awards is going to get a worldwide showing this week, and the documentary aims to make sense of the world of disinformation, misinformation and why news may be so polarizing. And the film’s creators say it’s about media literacy and getting in front of folks who struggle to find good information.

In this case, writing about media literacy and the need for reliable information on an online news site is – to use a cliche – preaching to choir because readers can find reliable information here prepared by career journalists. That’s not the problem; instead, it’s those who don’t find reliable information.

Executive producer and Getting Better Foundation founder Joe Phelps hopes that as more people see the documentary, “Trust Me,” the more will begin to understand the need for more media literacy, more journalists, and also the science behind why misinformation is so appealing and yet so corrosive.

Phelps, a former Los Angeles-based advertising and marketing executive, traded his entire business to start an organization that would focus on good news. Quickly, he realized the problem was much bigger than just hunting down stories with a positive twist. Instead, he found the challenge much more basic: Readers were attracted to polarizing, extreme stories, even if those articles were of dubious origin or credibility. That led him to recalibrate his mission: Re-establishing trust, which will, in turn, re-establish community.

“Journalists are America’s unsung heroes, and they’ve taken a beating, and we have to do something about it,” Phelps said. “People today can name singers or entertainers, but can they give you a name of a scientist or a journalist?”



To see “Trust Me” check your PBS or WORLD broadcasting times locally. Most Montana PBS stations will carry the documentary at 5 p.m., and 10 p.m., Friday, Jan. 7.

The film can be purchased for download at: https://www.trustmedocumentary.com/#buy-at-newday

More information on the film and the mission of Getting Better by going to:





“When fear goes up, it erodes trust. When people don’t trust each other, they don’t help each other and progress stalls,” information about the documentary states. “Sensational media take advantage of our survival instincts to earn more clicks and more ad revenue with shocking headlines, and we’re enabling them each time we share.”

The film also explores what attracts readers to stories about violence. 

He first got the hint that something was wrong while living in the posh community of Palisades Park, California.

“I’m a pretty upbeat, positive person. And yet, all the people who were around me were talking about how bad crime was or how bad life was,” Phelps said.

He said the reality was much different: His friends were well off and local crime rates had been dropping for years. The economy was full-throttle and his friends had few challenges that beset many people. He wondered: How could people with so much possibly believe they were under attack or living in such an awful place?

Even as early as the 1990s, Phelps had tried to sell the idea of a “good news” show to networks, long before the advent of social media. No one bought it, he said.

“Bad news sells, good news doesn’t,” Phelps said. “We look for things that could hurts versus what is a good story. That is a problem that we have. We, as individuals, have to take the blame for that because we create the demand for the content. If we created the demand for good news, the media would respond.”

Phelps sold his business, and he moved to Livingston. His hope was to produce a documentary that would help lay out the basis for why individuals believe frightening or bad information, and use that as a beginning point to rebuild community once the demons of disinformation had been slayed.

But that wasn’t as easy as it sounded because first he had a more basic problem of getting people to even find or believe credible information. That has led him on a journey to create a documentary that is now being hailed as one of the first feature-length documentaries to tackle the challenge of disinformation and misinformation. Maybe even more surprising is that none of the film was due to events like the Jan. 6 capitol invasion in Washington, D.C. Instead, this documentary has been several years in the making, and it eerily predicted the disastrous consequences of media literacy and misinformation, using examples of how disinformation has disrupted communities across the globe, sometimes with tragic consequences.



“Trust Me”

The film is a feature-length documentary exploring human nature, information technology, and the need for media literacy to help people trust one another.

Director: Roko Belic, who directed the documentary “Happy”

Length: 91 minutes
Release year: 2020



The film includes the story of a lynching in India where villagers in a remote part of the country believe a rumor swirling that men are attempting to kidnap children, luring them with candy. Villagers, who believed they located a car carrying the kidnappers, surrounded it and beat one of two men to death. However, shortly after the incident, authorities revealed the two men were technological engineers who had gone to the countryside for a picnic and only offered the kids candy when they were approached by the youth. 

The villagers said they were just acting because of messages they’d received on social media.

One of the problems, as illustrated by the India story, is that social media moves, changes and reports things so quickly, people only respond in the moment without having time to think, reflect or tease out any misinformation.

“Here’s an easy way to describe it: If crime rates are lower than they’ve ever been, which is happening in many parts of the country, then trust should be as high as it’s ever been, but it’s not. Why?” Phelps asked.

For at least a year, Phelps and Getting Better has worked on media literacy, training teachers, and creating and distributing lesson plans and the film to schools, where it fits nicely into many curricula about media literacy. More than 30,000 teachers have used the materials, which have the backing of the American Libraries Association.

Here are the film festivals that have featured “Trust Me.”

    • Flickers’ Rhode Island Int. Film Festival – Providence, Rhode Island
      WINNER, Best Documentary
    • Montana Int. Film Festival (MINT) – Billings, Montana
      WINNER, Best Documentary
    • IndieFEST Film Awards – La Jolla, California
      WINNER, Best Documentary
    • Portland Film Festival – Portland, Oregon
    • Ojai Film Festival – Ojai, California
    • Lonely Seal Int. Film, Screenplay, and Music Festival – Boston, Massachusetts
    • Ft. Lauderdale Int. Film Festival – Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
    • Mill Valley Film Festival – San Rafael, California
    • Alexandria Film Festival – Alexandria, Virginia
      WINNER, Joe Cantwell Excellence in Documentary Award

This week, the national Public Broadcasting Service and WORLD TV announced they’d be showing the documentary across the world, with most stations picking it up on Friday.

According to most Montana PBS affiliates, the documentary “Trust Me” will air at 5 p.m., and 10 p.m. Friday.

Putting so much of his money toward a project like this worried Phelps at first. Originally, he hoped to put up one-third of the funding, while raising the rest. But he was so anxious to produce it, he bankrolled most of the film.  

“I was originally afraid the movie would be obsolete within a year,” Phelps said. “Now, it will definitely need to be revisited several times.”

The wish, as Phelps describes it, is a change in behavior: For citizens to seek out trusted sources of news, consume good information and then unplug from social media.

“People should spend time to source credible media and then go about their lives,” Phelps said. “If it’s a problem now, it’ll probably never go away, kind of like proper nutrition. You don’t eat vegetables once and then be through it with it. It’s a habit that has to be changed.”

Getting Better Foundation Managing Director Rosemary Smith said there’s a common theme running throughout many issues — from climate change to mental health.

“Each one is rife with disinformation, and media literacy is at the core of each,” Smith said.


Letter demands answers to payroll system by Friday; CMC issues statement

Jan 5, 2022
BY: DailyMontanan.com 

 Community Medical Center pictured on January 17, 2021.


The Montana Nurses Association is giving one of the largest health care centers in the state until noon on Friday to pay more than 250 nurses and likely other staff for nearly a month of partial wages or face legal action to get employees past-due checks.

A letter sent to Community Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Bob Gomes by lawyers representing the nurses said that a payroll software problem has led to 257 nurses not being paid the correct amount, even as they’ve worked overtime during the holidays during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Gomes, pointed out that unsuccessful meetings with CMC staff who described the situation as “a dumpster fire” led to the decision to put the organization on a deadline because the nurses association estimates that the average nurse has likely been shorted $1,000 and some may have been undercompensated by as much as $4,500. The association is also concerned because the for-profit medical organization said that it estimated the glitch would not be corrected until the end of this month at the soonest.

Community Medical Center statement

On Wednesday morning, Community Medical Center in Missoula issued a statement to the Daily Montanan, which was not available when the organization was first contacted by the Daily Montanan Tuesday night. This is the full statement:

“Several weeks ago, we learned that the Kronos Enterprise System, our Cloud-based timekeeping platform, went down nationwide due to a ransomware issue on the national Kronos system. This situation is impacting all companies and employees worldwide that utilize the Cloud-based version of this payroll system. We have been in constant contact with the Kronos team to better understand the situation and when the program may be restored.

“Meantime, we’re working as diligently as possible to address the challenges we’re experiencing because of this situation. We have implemented downtime procedures – meaning manual data entry – to ensure all Community Medical Center employees are paid for their regular hours worked as they serve our patients and community. It is important to know that every employee is being paid every pay cycle as we work through this situation. In some instances, employees are being overpaid and in other instances they’re being underpaid – largely resulting from delayed pay premiums and differentials.  Additionally, we know some employees have worked additional hours beyond their regular schedule, and we’re working with employees individually to manually address all these issues as quickly as possible. Ensuring our employees are paid accurately and timely remains our top priority. To catch employees up in the interim, we have dedicated additional resources internally to address the backlog of issues we’re experiencing because of this nationwide problem.

“Our team is working around the clock to do everything we can to address these unfortunate challenges beyond our control, and we’re committed to continuing our manual data entry and adjustment process until this Kronos ransomware issue has successfully been resolved.”

Vicky Byrd, the chief executive for the nurses association, said that while salaried employees, including administrators at the healthcare center, were still getting paid normally, any employee who works variable hours, overtime, or has differential rates, hazard pay or even vacation is likely not getting full compensation.

The problem stems from a larger issue that reaches far beyond Missoula. Kronos, a large software provider who specializes in healthcare and government payroll systems, has been the target of a ransomware attack. That attack has meant that the payroll data may still be collected by the software and time management systems, but won’t allow access by clients like CMC until the ransom is paid.

Byrd told the Daily Montanan on Tuesday night that other healthcare systems had adjusted, even if that means doing payroll “the old fashioned” way by paper timecards. In fact, she said that nurses from the SCL system, which operates healthcare centers in Butte, Miles City and Billings, had faced the same issue, but apparently switched to a more labor-intensive manual system.

However, in a meeting Tuesday with some healthcare officials, Byrd said only three payroll employees are available for a staff that numbers nearly 1,000. She said officials from CMC refused to commit more staff to help alleviate the problem and was told the problem “would not be solved until at least Jan. 28.”

“Hundreds of nurses’ timecards are available at CMC,” the letter states. “But MNA learned from CMC today that the hospital has no plans to use them to make payroll manually … In the meantime, CMC has assigned just three personnel to address payroll issues for its 257 nurses and instructed these three staff members to work regular business hours only.”

Nurses at CMC said they were last accurately paid on Dec. 3, and three payroll periods have passed. Byrd said that nurses, many of whom are working overtime to care for patients, will not see that overtime pay anytime soon if the situation is changed. Many were expecting the pay to help pay for the holidays. She said one nurse called her crying because she went to payroll at CMC to “beg” so that she could go on vacation.

The MNA is in the process of collecting all the data, but from 40 members who had responded on Tuesday, she said the total of what is owed to just those nurses is more than $40,000. With 257 nurses represented at CMC, Byrd said it’s no stretch to think the amount of pay being held back likely stretches into six figures.

Byrd said the problem isn’t just a matter of being “shorted.” One nurse who hadn’t worked since November received a paycheck in December. That, in turn, will create another set of problems for nurses. Others, who may normally work at just halftime, but have since added more hours because of the demand, are still being paid on a part-time basis, shorting them more significantly.

The MNA has retained the McConnell Law Firm in Missoula and the Graybill Law Firm in Great Falls to represent the nurses, and in addition to nurses not getting paid, in the letter to Gomes, the lawyers point out that the action likely violates Montana law, which says that wages must be paid on time.

“The situation is not only a breach of employee’s trust, it is also illegal,” said the letter signed by Nate McConnell and Raph Graybill. “Failure to pay on time can result in a penalty of up to 110% of the wages due, as well as criminal penalties.”

The letter also asks CMC to offer a concrete plan with dates by the Friday deadline, which includes an increase in staffing in its payroll department to make the nurses whole, and a date that an accurate payroll will happen going forward.

“It is difficult to imagine a more urgent administrative crisis right now than the business’ failure to pay its frontline caregivers,” the letter stated. “CMC must begin to address this situation as the crisis it is.”


Sales of recreational marijuana are underway, and dispensary owners say they’re not ready to meet the demand. That may mean problems for the 55,000 Montanans who hold medical marijuana cards. 

Erin Bolster, owner of Tamarack Cannabis, said she thinks the real test of marijuana supplies will come in summer, when millions of tourists visit Yellowstone and Glacier national parks for the first season in which marijuana is fully legalized. Credit: Justin Franz / KHN

More than a year after voters approved legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Montana, anyone older than 21 can now walk into a dispensary and buy cannabis. That has medical marijuana user Joylynn Mane Wright worried.


Wright lives in Prairie County, the state’s fifth-least-populated county, with nearly 1,100 people. She already drives about 35 minutes to get to the marijuana dispensary nearest her home, which is 2½ hours northeast of Billings. And now she wonders how much more difficult it will be to get the cannabis she uses to relieve the chronic pain she developed after a 2017 spinal surgery.

“I’m really worried about supplies and what it’s going to cost,” she said.

For Wright and the approximately 55,000 other Montanans who hold medical marijuana cards and use cannabis for cancer, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, central nervous system disorders and other ailments, the question is how recreational marijuana will affect their ability to access their medicine.

Other states have had shortages soon after their recreational marijuana markets opened. In January 2020, when recreational marijuana became legal in Illinois, some dispensaries had to close their doors or impose limits on purchases. The same thing happened in Colorado and Washington when the recreational market opened in those states.

Pepper Petersen, president and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild and a medical marijuana provider in Helena, said he’s been telling his patients to stock up because he thinks the state’s dispensaries will run out of pot in the short term.

“We are going to have cannabis shortages. Access will be a problem until supply can catch up with demand,” Petersen said. “How can we produce enough product for thousands of new users in January? The answer is we can’t.”

Jared Moffat, a campaign manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, said a state’s market usually takes six to 12 months to stabilize after recreational cannabis becomes legal. One reason marijuana markets are unstable is that possessing and distributing the drug remain illegal under federal law, so moving products across state lines is not an option for dealing with a shortage. Everything that is sold in a state must be grown in that state.

“Not only do our medical patients have a need, they’re the ones who built up these businesses. They’re the ones who built this industry. So I think we have an ethical responsibility to take care of them, just like they have taken care of us.”


Adding to the potential supply-chain problem is that Montana has restricted who can sell cannabis, at least initially. The legislation that set up the framework for Montana’s recreational marijuana market gave existing dispensaries an 18-month head start on new producers, meaning newly licensed sellers can’t get into the market until July 2023.

That leaves medical marijuana customers to compete with recreational users for a limited supply of cannabis.

About 80 dispensaries — just 18% of Montana’s 451 licensed dispensaries — plan to exclusively serve holders of medical marijuana cards, according to Czelsi Gómez, spokesperson for the Montana Department of Revenue, which oversees the state’s marijuana programs. The rest plan to cater to both recreational and medical users or to only recreational users.

Some states that have legalized recreational cannabis — including New Jersey and Illinois — have required dispensaries to maintain enough stock to ensure that medical users can get what they need.

Montana has not instituted such a rule. But Gomez said the 80 dispensaries that will serve only medical marijuana users will protect patients. “We believe the medical-only establishments are the safeguard for ensuring medical marijuana is available to registered cardholders,” Gomez said.

Some dispensary owners said they will reserve some of their supplies to ensure medical customers don’t run out. But others said they don’t plan on holding back, arguing that would be bad for business.

Barbie Turner, a co-owner of Alternative ReLeaf, a dispensary with locations in Missoula, Polson and Libby, said she is worried about where medical users will get their cannabis. She said that if serving medical customers requires her to stop selling cannabis to recreational users, she will.

“Not only do our medical patients have a need, they’re the ones who built up these businesses. They’re the ones who built this industry,” she said. “So I think we have an ethical responsibility to take care of them, just like they have taken care of us.”

How big the recreational marijuana market will be is unclear. A University of Montana study cited survey results from 2017 and 2018 that found about 14% of Montana adults said they used cannabis in the previous month, compared with 9% of adults nationally.

Petersen and others said more people might become recreational users once cannabis products that can be smoked or eaten become easier to buy.

Turner said she and her employees have been working for months to make sure they have enough marijuana, but that she’s still worried about the supply. There are limits, both legally and financially, on how much a provider can grow, she said.

Shops will get some help, she said, when the state’s wholesale market opens in January, meaning that dispensaries will be able to sell to one another in bulk.

Although many dispensaries — especially in college towns such as Missoula and Bozeman — are bracing for shortages this month, Erin Bolster said she thinks the real test of marijuana supplies will come in the summer, when millions of tourists visit Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.

Bolster owns Tamarack Cannabis in the Flathead Valley, a popular tourist destination not far from Glacier National Park. Last summer, long before dispensaries could sell recreational cannabis, Bolster said, she would get one or two walk-ins and two or three calls a day from tourists who had heard Montana had legalized adult-use marijuana and wanted to see if they could buy.

Come summer, she thinks, the number of customers will skyrocket. That could mean even more competition for Montana’s medical marijuana there and in other popular destinations.

“We’ve been able to expand production,” Bolster said. “But the question is, ‘Did we expand enough?’”