Colorado Casinos Get Ready for Legal Sports Betting

Sports are about to get a lot more interesting for bettors.
Sports are about to get a lot more interesting for bettors. Photo-illustration by Jay Vollmar; photos from Getty Images
Friday, May 1, the first day when betting on professional sports is legal in Colorado, should be a banner day for bettors. The Nuggets should be in the playoffs, the Rockies will just be getting into the swing of things, and the Kentucky Derby takes off the next day. And sports fans will be able to place bets in person at casinos licensed for sports betting in Colorado's three gaming towns of Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City; they'll also be able to make wagers on phones through Internet sites or mobile apps affiliated with licensed casinos.

Casinos are working hard to get ready for the big day.

"There are many applications to get through, but division staff is working hard to make sure those that want to operate on May 1 can do so," says Suzi Karrer, a spokesperson for the state Department of Revenue's Division of Gaming.

The Colorado Limited Gaming Commission approved the first batch of sports-betting license applications on February 20, the same day it approved a set of sports-betting rules. But acquiring a license is just the start of the work for Colorado's sports-betting operators.

"They'll be looking at it as a land grab," says David Farahi, chief operating officer of the Monarch Casino and Resort in Black Hawk. "I'd be willing to wager that most sports-book operators in Colorado will not turn a profit in the first year because they're spending so much on advertising."

They'll also be competing to land partners with name-brand recognition. Last month, for example, Twin River Worldwide Holdings purchased three casinos in Black Hawk and signed deals with two big names in American sports betting. "These newly formed partnerships with DraftKings and FanDuel allow us to provide an unmatched sports betting experience to Colorado, not only with their mobile betting access, but also with an exciting DraftKings retail sportsbook location inside one of our newly acquired casinos," George Papanier, the president and CEO of Twin River, said in a statement announcing the deal.

But while Twin River, which also operates the Arapahoe Park racetrack, went all in on partnering with well-known national brands, other Colorado casinos are figuring out alternative ways to build their sports-betting business.

Black Hawk's Saratoga Casino is working with Betfred, a U.K.-based sports book, which is "trying to seal big deals with soccer teams and the Nuggets," says Marcus Rohrbaugh, Saratoga's director of gaming operations.

Saratoga and Monarch were approved for sports-betting licenses on February 20, and both Rohrbaugh and Farahi say they're confident that their casinos will have their sports books up and running by the first weekend of May.

"We'll have a counter where people can place bets in person. We'll also have kiosks," says Farahi. He anticipates that the Monarch sports-betting mobile app will be ready on May 1, too.

But some Colorado casinos that were licensed in the first batch of approved applications on February 20 aren't sure they'll be ready by May 1.

"This is a steep curve for us to learn about it," says Buddy Schmalz, who runs Dostal Alley in Central City. "We're a very small casino."

Most Central City casinos are much smaller than Black Hawk's, leading some to wonder whether they should combine their efforts. "If we all pooled our energy toward a single point of entry, Central City sports betting, I think it would have more market effect," says Jeremy Fey, the mayor of Central City, who wants to host an inaugural kickoff event for the start of the NFL season this summer.

"I would love to throw a big party on Main Street. But I’m not getting a lot of buy-in from the individual casinos," Fey says.

Colorado voters approved sports betting both in licensed casinos and by phone in November 2019, when they voted for Proposition DD. A portion of the revenue generated from sports betting will go toward funding the state's water plan.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.