Colorado in Race to Legalize Sports Betting in 2019

  • Colorado was the state where the first casino in the United States opened
  • For almost a year lawmakers in the state have been discussing legalizing sports betting
  • A draft bill is in the works which would offer retail and online sports betting with a 10% tax rate
  • To pass, it will need a super-majority in the legislature and a public referendum

Public referendum unwanted

The Colorado legislature has traditionally been fairly open to expanding its current gambling laws to adapt with the times. Since the federal ban on sports betting ended in May 2018, most states, including Colorado, have considered legalizing sports betting.

The main issue for the sports betting bills that have been put forth is their legal implementation.

As per the criminal code of Colorado, sports betting is illegal. It is not in the state constitution, and a public referendum would be required to change it.

The parties that want to expand the gambling laws naturally do not want proposals going to a public vote. And, traditionally, the people of Colorado have been resistant to gambling expansion. So some lawmakers have been looking into potential ways in which to push through a sports betting bill without needing a public referendum.

The draft bill’s details

Officials in Colorado have been discussing the idea of legal sports betting for almost one year. A preliminary sports betting bill is now in place. The bill’s sponsors are allowing the casino operators to have a look at the draft and provide feedback.

This bill would legalize both retail and online sports betting. However, there is a tight deadline in place if this bill is to go through. It has not yet been introduced and the legislative session for 2019 ends on May 3.

The draft bill proposes three types of licenses: a master license, a license for sports betting operators, and an online sports betting operator license.

Each of the 33 casinos in operation in Colorado would be able to apply for the master license. This could see them become partners with a single online operator and a single retail operator.

The tax rate would be 10%, which is very reasonable. There is no mention of integrity fees for the major sports leagues. Betting on both college and professional events would be permitted, but not on high school or esports events.

Super-majority required

It seems like the mobile betting aspect of this bill is integral. The House majority leader Representative Alec Garnett is the presumptive sponsor. Speaking about the importance of the mobile aspect of the bill, he said: “Nobody does this in person any more. This is all done on your phone.”

Colorado’s lawmakers are examining what has been working in other states with open sportsbooks. New Jersey is the main success to date. It regularly hits new record monthly revenues, with more than 80% of sports bets in the state coming from mobile sportsbooks.

There will need to be a super-majority from the legislature for this bill, as well as a public referendum, for it to become law. If all that happens, sportsbooks could be open in Colorado by February 1, 2020.

Gambling in Colorado

Colorado has an interesting history when it comes to their gambling scene. During the 19th century, as the West opened up the state was a popular stopping point for immigrants.

This brought a wide variety of different games to the state. The very first casino in the US was in Colorado. The Brown Saloon opened its doors in 1822. It was ideally located as it was on the border Colorado shares with Wyoming and Utah.

In 1991, commercial casino gambling became legal in the historic towns of Central City, Cripple Creek and Black Hawk. There was no state lottery in operation until 1993.

Commercial casinos originally had many different restrictions. The regulations have been eased as of late, such as the maximum allowable bet rising from $5 to $100. The previous curfew of 2am is also now gone. A casino can open all day if it wishes to do so.

There are also a number of tribal gambling facilities open in Colorado, as per the state compacts from 1995.