There Won't Be Much to Bet on When Sports Betting Becomes Legal

The highly-anticipated start of sports betting won't be that interesting.
Photo-illustration by Jay Vollmar; photos from Getty Images
The highly-anticipated start of sports betting won't be that interesting.
On May 1, sports betting will become legal in Colorado. The state will be ready...but all bets are off when it comes to what Coloradans will be able to bet on, and where.

"The Division of Gaming believes, from an administrative standpoint, that the May 1 deadline will be met given the current status and progress of adopting rules, approving licenses and implementing procedures for sports betting in Colorado," says Suzi Karrer, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Revenue's Enforcement Division, which has approved 26 sports betting operator licenses so far.

"The reality is, it doesn’t much matter if the leagues are closed. There is nothing to bet on anyway," says David Farahi, chief operating officer of the Monarch Casino and Resort in Black Hawk. Like all other casinos in the state, his was shuttered a week ago by order of Governor Jared Polis.

All the major sports leagues in the United States and most around the globe are currently shut down, making it  tough to find meaningful wagers to place. Instead of battling for position in the NBA playoffs, basketball players are hanging out at home and making TikTok videos with their kids. Baseball players are live-streaming themselves playing video games, since spring training is canceled and the start of the MLB season will be delayed, if not canceled altogether.

It's tough timing for the start of sports betting in Colorado.

And it had been shaping up to be something special. When Colorado voters approved a ballot initiative in November 2019 legalizing sports betting, COVID-19 was not on anyone's radar. It looked like, come the first weekend in May, bettors would be able to download an app on their phones or head to a nearby casino to place bets on the Kentucky Derby, the Nuggets, the Rockies and maybe even the Avalanche, if the team advanced in the playoffs. There would have been a plethora of European soccer matches to bet on. And folks with more refined tastes could have wagered on sports like billiards, darts and bowling.

Casinos and governments in the three mountain towns where gaming is legal were strategizing ways to kick off the start of sports betting.

"I would love to throw a big party on Main Street," Jeremy Fey, the mayor of Central City, told Westword.

Other businesses were excited, too. "I think it’s going to revitalize a lot of sports bars," said Chris Fuselier, owner of Blake Street Tavern.

But now there won't be any parties on Main Street in Central City, as the casinos are shuttered and social distancing is in place. And since restaurants and bars are closed for in-person service throughout the state, sports fans won't be able to sit on a bar stool, drink a beer and bet on their phones.

Instead, now they can sit in the privacy of their own homes and bet on very obscure games. "As of right now, there is a little bit of soccer going on, as well as Aussie football, and some boxing and MMA. It's very limited," says Geoff Kulesa, a Denver-based professional handicapper who runs the sports betting advice site Wunderdog.

"In more interesting news, some people are betting on virtual sports, e-sports and the weather!" he notes.

Yes, people are actually betting on virtual sports, like simulated horse racing, and they're also betting on metereological activity.

But the language of the Colorado sports betting ballot initiative does not allow betting on weather activity —probably a good thing, given how volatile the weather is here. Coloradans will be able to wager on e-sports, however, and given how much time people are spending indoors, it's likely that the video-gaming competition will be fierce.

While some mobile apps will be ready to go on May 1, casinos are looking down the road to the day when they can reopen and sports betting might help bring them back from financial devastation.

And maybe funds will even trickle into the Colorado Water Plan, sold to voters as the beneficiary of sports betting in this state.