Colorado Sports Betting Rules, Master Licensees Approved

Colorado Sports Betting Rules, Master Licensees Approved
© USA Today

Regulators in Colorado approved sports wagering rules as well as the first seven casino sportsbook operators Thursday, critical steps that open the door for legal wagering to begin as early as May 1.

The regulations still need final approval from state officials, and the seven casinos will need their online and retail sportsbooks partners approved by inspectors, but Thursday’s meeting of the Colorado Limited Gaming Commission means sports bettors will likely be able to wager May 1, when state law permits the first legal bets to be placed.

The CLGB made largely cosmetic changes to the rules to regulate wagering, capping off a process that began shortly after voters narrowly passed a ballot measure in November 2019 to approve Colorado sports betting. The rules now go before final approval by the offices of the attorney general and the secretary of state, but state officials believe that process should be completed by May 1.

“We’re doing all we can that who wants to operate on May 1 is able to do so,” said Suzanne Karrer, communications manager for the Division of Gaming. “That’s why it was important to pass these rules in February.”

License Details

In the meantime, third-party operators have already begun partnering with the state casinos, the only entities permitted to take online and retail sports bets, to help manage their sportsbooks. The emergency rules approved by the commission allow them to begin the inspection process immediately, even as the final codification of the regulations is underway.

Each of the state’s 33 commercial casinos, all of which are located in the historic gaming towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, have applied to take bets, but only seven were approved by the commission Thursday. Each facility is allowed to open one brick-and-mortar book on its property as well as one online sportsbook, or “skin.” Eligible bettors over the age of 21 will be able to register from a mobile device anywhere within state lines without have to sign-up in person at one of the casinos, all of which are located in the rural mountains.

The following seven have cleared an essential first hurdle and, should they pass inspection, are poised to begin accepting bets May 1.

  • Brass Ass Casino – Cripple Creek
  • Dostal Alley Brewpub and Casino – Central City
  • Double Eagle Hotel and Casino – Cripple Creek
  • J.P. McGills Hotel & Casino – Cripple Creek
  • Midnight Rose Hotel & Casino – Cripple Creek
  • Monarch Casino – Black Hawk
  • Saratoga Casino – Black Hawk

Most if not all the rest of the will likely be approved by commissioners in the coming months. Once sports betting begins, Colorado bettors will be able to bet on dozens of American and foreign professional leagues, as well in-state and out-of-state college teams. However, proposition bets are not allowed on college games.

Sports Betting Background

Colorado lawmakers began considering sports betting shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the federal sports betting ban in 2018, allowing individual states to approve legal wagering within their borders. Supporters introduced legislation at the start of the 2019 session, and allocated tax receipts on gross gaming revenues as a means to bolster the state’s underfunded water conservation funds.

With pro-business, pro-gaming and environmentalist groups aligned, the bill quickly gained bipartisan support from members of both houses. Debates over whether or not to permit sports betting at the state’s venerable Arapahoe Horse Track in the Denver suburbs threatened to derail the bill, but those largely subsided once property owner Twin River purchased three Colorado casinos, thereby allowing the company to enter to take sports bets if the bill passed.

It subsequently cruised through the legislature and the desk of Gov. Jared Polis in spring 2019, but since it included a tax increase, it was subject to the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights and would therefore need to be approved by a majority of voters through a referendum on that fall’s ballot.

The unusual wording, which by state law had to phrase the question as a tax increase, even though it was only on the casinos themselves and not the actual voters (or even gamblers), had backers concerned, despite an overwhelming fundraising for the “yes” camp. Coloradoans had rejected a ballot measure several years earlier that would have permitted casino gambling at Arapahoe Park, and the state had largely rejected any new forms of gaming outside those confided to three gaming communities.

Their fears were nearly justified when late into the night it appeared the “no” vote would come on top. However, late votes counts arriving from densely populated Denver pushed the “yes” vote over the top, squeaking by with 51.41% of more than 1.5 million total votes.

Now, Colorado’s long journey toward legal sports betting can see the finish line. Assuming no unexpected obstacles from state bureaucrats and that the seven operators and their partners pass inspections, sports betting in Colorado remains on pace to begin by May. 1.

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