Colorado sports betting remains a long way from reality, but the state’s attorney general cleared the path a bit last week.
Cynthia Coffman issued an opinion stating that legalizing sports betting would not require an amendment to the state constitution. Such an amendment would require approval from a legislative supermajority, as well as a voter referendum.
That could be positive news for advocates of Colorado sports betting, although Coffman also concluded such wagering is illegal and requires a change in state law. Coffman spells out her opinion in an 11-page document:
“… although commercial sports betting is not subject to state constitutional restrictions, it falls within the definition of prohibited gambling under Colorado’s criminal code, making it unlawful. Consequently, to legalize commercial sports betting in the State, a statutory change-but not a constitutional amendment-would be required.”
Two sports betting questions answered
Coffman’s opinion addresses two key questions:
- Does a state prohibition on lotteries include a ban on sports betting?
- Would Colorado law need to be changed to allow sports betting?
The second question is answered above. Coffman lays out her reasoning why sports betting falls outside the lottery restriction:
While Article XVIII, Section 2 imposes various restrictions on “lotteries,” commercial sports betting does not qualify as a lottery. The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that betting on horse and dog races is not a lottery, and there is no material difference between betting on horse and dog races and betting on other types of sporting events. Commercial sports betting therefore falls outside the restrictions in Article XVIII, Section 2.
The path to Colorado sports betting
Coffman’s opinion helps establish the landscape in which sports wagering will be considered next year. State legislators from both parties expressed interest in bringing legal sports betting to Colorado following the fall of PASPA.
Legal gambling exists in Colorado, but is severely restricted. State voters approved a state constitutional amendment 26 years ago that allows non-tribal gambling in three small towns.
Casinos are permitted in the outlying communities of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. The two closest of them lie more than 30 miles outside central Denver on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains.
An appetite for sports gaming exists in Colorado, which adopted regulation of daily fantasy sports in 2016. Wider adoption of gambling in Colorado historically struggles, though, and sports betting will face industry opposition from the remote casinos.
Those casinos want Colorado sports betting to be exclusive to them, which also could limit expansion of online and mobile betting. They also indicated they could challenge Coffman’s opinion.
“The Colorado courts only give ‘respectful consideration’ to attorney general opinions and, many times, find that an AG’s opinion is incorrect,” the Colorado Gaming Association said in a statement. “Attorney General Coffman’s conclusion that horse and dog racing are ‘not materially different’ than professional and collegiate sports betting is factually and, we believe, legally incorrect.”