The Slow, Desperate First Days of Legal Sports Betting in Colorado

There isn't much to bet on these days.
There isn't much to bet on these days. Manuel-F-O / iStock
We are living in the dark ages of sports. Almost every major league has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, but at least Dana White wants to re-create Mortal Kombat and Bloodsport by buying an island for UFC fights. He actually named it "Fight Island." Somebody call Sub Zero, Jean Claude Van Damme and the boys.

It's a damn shame, since May was supposed to be the holy month in Colorado for thirsty sports fans — you know, the ones who are really ’bout that action, boss. Sports betting finally became legal here on May 1, and although the casinos are closed, you can still bet on your phone.

Without most sports currently happening, though, the start of legal sports betting in Colorado has been a quiet thud, which was a big disappointment for me. I watch sports constantly, but aside from the occasional small wager with friends on whether orange or red Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach after the Super Bowl, I hadn't bet on them. But with COVID-19 putting a damper on just about everything, I'm now game for just about anything.

The first weekend of May happened to be my birthday weekend, so I downloaded the DraftKings mobile app and gifted myself $100 of betting money. I started by placing $1 bets on soccer and basketball matches happening in countries like Nicaragua, where the government essentially said "Screw it" in the face of the coronavirus and the legitimacy of professional sports outcomes aren't always without scrutiny.

The $1 bets on soccer and basketball didn't turn out too well, as I mostly bet on underdogs to make the bets more interesting. Those underdogs turned out to be serious underdogs in certain cases, like when one of the Nicaraguan basketball teams I bet on to win ended up losing 91 to 31, a loss margin akin to an Olympic basketball game pitting the United States against Micronesia.

Not exactly the Nuggets and Avalanche playoff games i'd anticipated betting on.

I thought that having the vested interest of a $1 bet on these games might make the matches intriguing. But I didn't even end up watching them — not that it would've been easy to — and played Nintendo instead, tallying up my losses after the matches had finished.

Sports betting newb that I am, I somehow managed to place a combined bet on a Taiwanese baseball game, a Belarusian soccer match and the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl. This wasn't an intentional parlay, but  me clicking on random bets and not realizing that I had connected them.

Although my bet on the Rakuten Monkeys worked out, my wager on FC Belshina Bobruisk didn't, so I won't get the bliss of cashing in on the Jets winning the Super Bowl in the upcoming season. Spoiler alert: I would've made $470 in profit from that one-dollar bet, which makes perfect sense, as my poor Jets have abysmal odds to win it all and have been the laughingstock of the NFL for years.

Staying loyal to the place I now call home, I also have a $1 bet on new Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy winning the the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. I'll get a whopping $15.50 in profit if he wins. No kidding — this has probably been my smartest bet so far.

But while the first week of legal sports betting in Colorado was pretty boring, the real fun began this past weekend, when I bet on UFC and the impressive bouts the league offered on the evening of Saturday, May 9. We're talking pre-Fight Island UFC, as these fights happened at a venue in Florida, home of the way-too-brave.

Feeling confident since I was drinking Modelo (the official beer of the UFC), my $1 bets became $5 and $10  bets.

Again, I mostly placed bets on underdogs; I even placed a bet on a guy who got knocked out in twenty seconds. As my losses piled up, I was seriously considering dropping everything to seek out responsible gambling advice from Michael Jordan.

But then the tides turned when Justin Gaethje, a University of Northern Colorado grad, absolutely dominated his opponent, Tony Ferguson, in a championship bout. My bet on Gaethje helped me recoup most of my losses since the start of my betting spree. My $100 in betting money is now at $78.03 — not bad for a first-timer betting on Nicaraguan basketball and Mortal Kombat LARPing.

There's still a bit more to look forward to this month, including additional UFC fights and Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning teaming up against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady for a charity golf match, also scheduled for Florida.

But life is much less vibrant without sports on TV. And betting on obscure sports leagues just isn't that much fun. Maybe I'll start betting on the weather, since that's so easy to predict in Colorado.
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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.