Essential Guide To Colorado Online Sports Betting – Legislation News and Updates

This November, Colorado voters will be the ones to decide if they want the ability to participate in online sports betting.

In May, the state legislature approved a ballot question that specifically asks if voters want to approve Colorado online sports betting and apply a 10 percent flat tax on the net proceeds. By law in Colorado, any tax hike must go before voters.

Once the tax rate is OK’d, Colorado online sports betting would begin in May 2020 with anticipated state tax revenues of $4 million to $10 million.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 5, 2019.

How US Online Sports Betting Efforts Began

In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional And Amateur Sports Protection Act, which was followed shortly by the legalization of online sports betting in New Jersey.

In the last year, either through grandfathered laws or newly approved legislation, more than a dozen states and Washington, D.C. have implemented or are poised to begin some form of legalized sports betting.

In Colorado, a bill on sports betting passed the legislature and will be on the ballot in the fall. 

Colorado Lawmakers Didn’t Rush In

The Colorado sports betting bill and proposed tax rate were latecomers to the 2019 Colorado General Assembly session, which began Jan. 4. 

House Bill 19-1327 was introduced April 18 by Democratic House Majority Leader Alec Garnett and Republican Minority Leader Patrick Neville. The session’s scheduled end was May 3.

Garnett said one reason for proposing the legislation was to eliminate online black-market betting, much of it established offshore of the United States.

“This is sweeping the country,”  bill sponsor and Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver said when introducing the bill. “It is our hope that this measure will help stamp out black market sports betting.” 

Translation: wouldn’t it be great if the money stayed in the state rather than going offshore?

He also said he was committed to look at other state models and build a competitive marketplace “not so large that the Department of Revenue can’t regulate it effectively.”

Not everyone is happy with the final legislation. In-state professional sports teams, such as the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies, had lobbied for casinos to use official league data and sought betting kiosks in its stadiums and ballparks. Both requests were rejected.

The horse track in Aurora also fell short despite having off-track betting locations in Denver. In 2014, voters rejected a constitutional amendment to expand gambling to select racetracks around the state. The measure on the ballot allows sportsbooks only in the mountain casinos, because previously voters have chosen to keep casino-type games out of the state’s metro areas.

And groups that currently benefit from proceeds of casino table games and slots feared they might lose money due to more people turning to sports betting rather than gaming. An amendment to the measure assuages those fears by establishing a fund to pay those groups, such as the State Historical Fund, if there is a shortfall. Counties and cities that rely on gaming revenue, too, can apply to the fund.

Colorado Online Sports Betting Is Not A Done Deal

A  survey conducted by released mid-June found that just 29 percent of voting-age Coloradans would vote yes for online sports betting in the state. Almost 32 percent said they would oppose it and nearly 40 percent of respondents remain undecided on the issue.

Officials say that is not surprising, since many in the state are unaware it will even appear on the budget in November.

“Voter education will be critical over the next few months,” said Mike Murphy, CEO of Betting USA. 

Special interest groups on both sides are expected to spend many dollars to persuade voters to their side by November. There were similar efforts in Florida last year, resulting in passage of Amendment 3 that wrested control of expansion of casino gambling and the future of online sports betting away from the state legislature and into voters’ hands.

What Might Colorado Online Sports Betting Look Like?

If voters approve of the bill in November, there is still much work to be done before Coloradans can begin placing bets. However, House Bill 19-1327 does provide a framework:

  • Flat tax of 10 percent on sports betting proceeds will be imposed
  • Both brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and mobile betting would be allowed
  • You must be 21-years-old to bet
  • Betting on high school sports and non-sanctioned e-sports is prohibited
  • Betting on in-state college sports is allowed, but prop bets are not permitted
  • Athletes, coaches, referees, managers, athletic trainers or other employees (agents, union rep, etc.) with a conflict of interest are prohibited from betting
  • The approved measure creates three types of licenses: master license, sports betting operator license, and internet sports betting operator license and are up for renewal every two years; costs to be determined
  • Casinos would apply for a master license
  • Each casino is allowed to partner with one land-based operator and one internet operator (or use same operator and launch on online/mobile platform)
  • Casinos will be allowed to set limits on sports wagers, unlike existing table games which are capped at $100 by the Colorado Constitution
  • Tax proceeds will be directed to the Colorado Water Plan, a conservation and water story project that needs funding. About $130,000 too will go to the Department of Human Services to fund a gambling addiction hotline and other services

The Prospect Of Colorado Online Sports Betting Started With The Gold Rush

Colorado’s history with gambling is rooted in the Gold Rush, where unregulated casinos sprung from the boulders and were stocked with suspicious characters who took aim at prospectors and the gold they brought out from the hills. It was from these camps that many of Colorado’s citties were born.

One such town was Leadville, Colorado. Founded by mine owners, Leadville had more than 150 gambling establishments and was home to famed gamblers such as Poker Alice, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday. Gambling was so prevalent it was considered by many to be a profession as revered as clergyman or doctor.

In 1822, Brown’s Saloon, technically in Wyoming, but along the border with Colorado and Utah serving as a watering hole – the first actually – doling out “firewater” (whiskey and brewed beer at room temperature). 

It also was a gambling parlor where fur trappers would wager their small fortunes playing poker and faro, a late 17th-century French card game. 

It would be 169 years from that meager start that a more lawful gambling landscape would emerge, making the way for nearly 40 casinos operating in Colorado: 

1983: The Colorado Lottery is established with its first scratch cards. It’s first drawing was April 23, 1983. 

1991: There was a long gap between illegal establishments to legally sanctioned casinos. In three locations, Black Hawk, Cripple Creek and Central City, small-stakes casinos were OK’d to open. The maximum stakes were $5 on slots, poker and blackjack. A curfew of 2 a.m. also was imposed. Almost simultaneously, in the southern portion of the state, two Ute tribes opened casinos using the state guidelines as well.

1995: Both the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes entered into compact with the state of Colorado to conduct casino-style gaming on reservation land. They added Keno.

1999: The Bingo-Raffle Advisory board, which license charity games, is created. Charity games include “Las Vegas” or “Monte Carlo” charity casino events as well as bingo and raffles and are only open to non-profit organizations to raise funds for their good causes.

2001: Powerball became available as part of the Colorado Lottery.

2005: Online gambling is covered by existing laws, according to the state Attorney General, saying it falls under the blanket definition of gambling, and is not legal. 

2008: Amendment 50, which allows residents of the three licensed casino towns to vote on extending the facilities’ operations to around the clock (beyond the 2 a.m. curfew). Table limits also increased to $100 and revenues pledged to Colorado’s community colleges. Craps and roulette are added to list of available games.

2009: Mega Millions was approved as part of the Colorado Lottery.

All this history brings us to November 5, 2019, when we’ll discover the fate of Colorado online sports betting. Check this page often for news, updates and leanings on online sports betting in Colorado.

(Top Photo: Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

About the Author