Legal sports betting in Colorado started on May 1, when all the major American sports leagues were either on pause or had postponed the start of their seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic. But even as COVID-19 spread around the globe, some obscure sports leagues were in full swing — and Coloradans made the most of their new betting opportunities.
Especially table tennis.
The state Department of Revenue just released the figures for May, and table tennis was by far the most popular sport for wagers placed in Colorado that month. Of over $25.6 million spent on sports betting here, close to $6.6 million went to wagers on table tennis, which is being played across eastern Europe and East Asia, COVID-19 be damned.
Mixed martial arts ranked second at $1.74 million, with most bets placed when the UFC hosted a stacked card of fights in Florida on May 9. Then came baseball and soccer; Belarus, Nicaragua and Taiwan, among a handful of other countries, have continued to host contests in those sports for most of the pandemic. In fifth place was golf: Coloradans bet $1.42 million on that sport in May, most of it on the charity golf match that pitted Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods against Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson. (Hats off to the former Broncos QB and Woods, who beat Brady and Lefty in a hotly contested amateur round.)
Given the COVID-19 climate, state officials are feeling relatively happy about the numbers. “The total amount wagered in May of $25.6 million is an encouraging predictor of the potential for the Colorado sports betting landscape. It shows a bright future for the Colorado sports betting market," Dan Hartman, director of the Division of Gaming, said in a statement announcing the results.
And that $25.6 million figure doesn't look too shabby to observers, including Dustin Gouker, a sports-betting analyst for PlayUSA.com.
"This seems like a really good number based on how few sports there have been to bet on. It's hard to take a ton out of this other than I'd say for a launch into a world where there are few sports going on, I think the state and operators should be pleased with what they saw," Gouker says.
Recently, major professional sports leagues in the United States have either started play again or begun pushing toward that point. Major League Soccer returned last week, and on July 23, the Yankees will take on the Nationals, the 2019 World Series champion, to start the 2020 Major League Baseball season. A week after that, the Jazz will meet the Pelicans in the restart of the paused BA season.
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With those leagues, plus the NHL, coming back online, Colorado's sports-betting numbers should skyrocket — further propelled by the fact that the Avalanche and Nuggets are both really good, inspiring fans to bet more. And while only online bets were represented in the May numbers, since casinos were closed that month, people can now bet in person at reopened casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
Coloradans approved legal sports betting in November 2019 with the passage of Proposition DD, which put a tax on casino winnings that will help pay for the Colorado Water Plan.
The state has already licensed 25 mobile sportsbook operators and 19 retail sportsbook operators. One of those mobile operators, BetMGM, will have an exclusive sports-betting partnership with the Broncos, including its own lounge at Empower Field at Mile High. And when will that season start?
As negotiations continue, all bets are off.