It’s a busy time for the town of Manhattan.
Jackpot Casino is still gambling on being able to open up in town, and DISH TV wants to possibly put up to six of its own antennae on the town’s water tower.
Next up in the order of business is a rehearing by the Planning Board of Jackpot Casino’s request for the city to change its zoning code, which would in turn allow Jackpot to establish a casino at 110 S. Broadway. The request will be heard at the board’s Jan. 19 meeting at 7 p.m.
Manhattan has been dealing with the question of the Jackpot Casino on Broadway since December 2020; the casino itself has been in the planning stages for longer than that.
In December 2020, the council denied the casino a conditional use permit for the Broadway location because the town code prohibits a casino from being within 250 feet of a park or residential area.
Both Sir Scott’s Oasis and the Broken Arrow, which have gambling machines, are within those parameters, but their use was grandfathered by the council years before.
In an earlier interview, Mayor Glen Clements told the Belgrade News that “I think there are likely locations in town where you can have a casino and not be in violation of that code. Maybe not on Main Street, but there are other locations.’
Jackpot asked for a variance to the rule, stating that the town code had placed a hardship on the business. That was denied by the Planning Board by a 3-2 vote in March 2021 (four “yes” votes were required for passage).
Jackpot owners then opened a liquor store and small bar at the 110 S. Broadway location in order to preserve their liquor license, which had to be in use by April 21, 2021, so that it wouldn’t be revoked by the state.
In November 2021, Jackpot came before the Planning Board again, asking it to approve an ordinance that would change the town’s zoning code to remove language prohibiting casinos from being located within 250 feet of a public park or residential zoning district. The board voted unanimously to deny the request at that meeting.
But Jackpot plans to make the very same request before the same board next week, according to Jackpot representative Bushnell, who asserts that according to Montana law, “We’re good for a casino there, but the Manhattan city code is more restrictive, with gambling operations not allowed within so many feet of a park or ‘residential overlay.’ “
Bushnell said Jackpot’s lawyer plans to assert that Railroad Park is actually owned by the railroad and not the town, so the town can’t count it as a city park. Clements told the Belgrade News on Wednesday that he hadn’t yet heard that argument that from Jackpot.
Bushnell said, “We want to be an integral part of the community. We sponsor Shakespeare in the Parks, the Spud Fest. We’ve spoken with hockey rink people that want to put a rink in Manhattan. We can sponsor that. But we can’t do that if the city doesn’t let us (have a code amendment).”
Jackpot’s liquor license is under the name of the “Manhattan Casino,” and the casino’s name – if the Planning Board reverses itself and approves the zoning amendment – will be the Manhattan Depot, the current name of Jackpot’s liquor store and bar in the 110 S. Broadway building. Other tenants of the building owned by Jackpot include a hair salon, technology company and a pizza place.
The pizza joint just changed owners, and soon will be remodeled and renamed Wheeler’s Pies, Bushnell said.
“The city told us in the beginning they weren’t happy with the ‘casino’ name. So, if we’re successful, we’ll be the Manhattan Depot,” Bushnell said.
This casino saga started several years ago, when the Jackpot group bought Flathead Mike’s next to the Oasis. After the fact, Jackpot discovered an abandoned sewer main ran under the bar, which would have required expensive mitigation.
Another controversial matter of town business – a request from DISH Network to place up to six of its own antennae on the town’s water tower – had been rescheduled for consideration at tonight’s (Jan. 13) Town Council meeting, but has since been postponed because the city and DISH are still negotiating terms of the possible lease, Clements said.
The council has discussed and tabled the matter twice already. At its meeting in December, DISH representative Jared White told the council that DISH want to do is what the council has already allowed T-Mobile to do – to place antennae on the city’s water tower.
He said DISH would start by placing three antennae on the tower, but would like permission to install as many as six.
Since the town has already permitted other towers in town, White said it couldn’t prohibit more of the same.
White said DISH’s offer to put equipment on the water tower would actually doing city residents a favor, because the company will otherwise needs to be a 125-foot tower in the middle of town.