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Game On! Legal Sports Betting Finally Arrives in Colorado

The holy month has finally arrived.
The holy month has finally arrived.
Photo-illustration by Jay Vollmar; photos from Getty Images

For sports fans in Colorado, the big day has arrived: Starting tomorrow, May 1, sports betting will be legal across the state.

That means that Broncos fans — their fingers crossed that Drew Lock is the real deal — won't have to go to Vegas to throw down $100 on a wager that their team will win the Super Bowl.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on the festivities and on sports in general, this is still a historic time in Colorado. Here's what you need to know about sports betting in the state.


How We Got Here

In 2018, following six years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey should be allowed to create a legal sports-betting market and that bans were unconstitutional. Prior to that decision, legal sports betting in the U.S. had been largely confined to Las Vegas. But at the same time, plenty of betting was done — and continues to be done — through bookies and offshore websites.

Since that Supreme Court decision, states across the country have followed New Jersey's lead and legalized sports betting. Coming together in a bipartisan effort, Colorado lawmakers referred a sports-betting measure to the November 2019 statewide ballot. A slight majority of Colorado voters approved legalizing sports betting and putting a 10 percent tax rate on casino winnings.

What's Legal

Starting May 1, Coloradans can legally bet on a variety of sports, including the NFL, whatever the football season will look like. Soccer fans will be able to bet on English Premier League soccer matches, while track and field aficionados can wager on the Olympics...whenever those are scheduled.

And gamblers will be able to bet on just about every other sport imaginable, including intercollegiate competitions and professional video-game competitions, as long as a sports book creates a wager for it.

How to Bet

There will be two different ways to bet in Colorado. Fans can drive to casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek and place wagers in person — once casinos are allowed to open, that is.

The other way is through mobile betting applications that will be accessible by any phone in Colorado. The state's sports-betting market is pretty wide open, and outside companies are able to enter both the retail and mobile-betting market as long as they become associated with a local casino — and that means more apps for fans to choose from.

Although not all apps will be up and running at the beginning of May, some definitely will be. And the casino doors do not need to be officially open for those bets to start coming in.

Types of Bets

Sports betting requires as little or as much effort as you want to put into it. There are simple bets, such as "The Nuggets will beat the Lakers tonight." (Of course, calculating the NBA's future right now is far from simple.) And then there are slightly more complicated ones, such as, "The Nuggets and Lakers are predicted to put up less than 200 points tonight, but I believe they'll score more than that."

For more complicated wagers, there will be plenty of chances to bet on how many rushing yards Phillip Lindsay will rack up in one game and how many triple-doubles Nikola Jokic will get in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The one catch is that these types of bets, called proposition bets, cannot be placed on college sporting competitions.

Sports Happening Now

Almost all of the major sports leagues across the U.S. and throughout much of the world are currently on hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contingency plans are in the works for various leagues and events. The PGA could start up again this summer, and the MLB may get games going over the next few months, albeit with minimal or no fans and in only a few select stadiums. The NFL is reportedly eyeing a mid-October start to its season.

But some sporting events are still happening right now. Nicaragua, which has decided not to take protective measures against the spread of COVID-19, has an active baseball league. So does Taiwan, where players compete in front of robot fans in some cases.

Whether Coloradans will be allowed to bet on more obscure leagues, such as Nicaraguan baseball, will depend on whether sports books determine that it's financially viable to create bets on games in those leagues.

"In the next few days, we will be narrowing it down to what we will be offering as far as those go," says Nick Epstein, the sports book manager at the Monarch Casino in Black Hawk.

In the meantime, sports books are waiting to see if state gaming officials will sanction virtual NASCAR races as a valid e-sports league, according to Epstein. If the state does give the league the green light, then NASCAR fans will be able to bet on these races as though they were sitting on the bleachers at the Daytona 500.

For Monarch, which will have its own mobile app running by 10 a.m. May 1, the main focus will be taking wagers on upcoming UFC matches. While Dana White, the head of the UFC, wasn't able to secure a private island where he could host fights, he nailed down a venue in the next best place: Jacksonville, Florida, where fights will take place on May 9, May 13 and May 16.

"That’ll be the big sell," Epstein says.

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The most intriguing sporting event of the month could be a planned charity golf match pairing Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. It would be cathartic for sports fans across the country and, since two amateur-at-best golfers will be competing, there's a good chance that bets will be all over the place.

Where the Money Is Going

Sports betting won't generate major revenue in Colorado until sports start to come back. But once the market really gets going, "the Centennial State has a bright future, capable at maturity of generating as much as $6 billion in sports bets annually, $400 million in gross operator revenue annually, and $40 million in annual tax revenue," according to PlayColorado.com.

The vast majority of the tax revenue generated from sports betting will go directly to the Colorado Water Plan. Created when John Hickenlooper was governor, that plan is designed to ensure that state residents have drinking water and rivers in which to recreate for generations to come, but it's been underfunded for years.

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