It’s been nearly a year since Colorado lawmakers first discussed the possibility of legal sports betting in public, and the time for action has come.
This week, casino operators had the chance to offer feedback on preliminary language for a new CO sports betting bill. Reviewed by Legal Sports Report, the draft being circulated includes provisions for both physical sportsbooks and statewide mobile betting under a manageable tax structure.
Considering the bill has yet to be introduced, however, time is running a bit tight. The legislature adjourns for the year on May 3.
Colorado sports betting bill draft
As drafted, the bill would modify existing gambling laws to legalize and regulate Colorado sports betting. It would create three new categories of licensure:
- Master license
- Sports betting operator
- Internet sports betting operator
Each of the 33 Colorado casinos could apply for a master license, though the associated fee is one of the details left unspecified. Each licensee could partner with one land-based operator and one internet operator — or use the same partner for both — and deploy one online/mobile platform.
Revenue would be taxed at a rate of 10 percent, and there are no provisions for official data or the payment of integrity fees. The bill authorizes wagering on both professional and collegiate sports, while prohibiting action on esports and high school events.
Elements of a thoughtful bill
The draft looks to create a reasonable and comprehensive framework for CO sports betting. The proposed tax rate falls in line with the healthiest US markets, and there are enough prospective operators in the state to justify the skin limitation.
Given the geography of Colorado gambling, lawmakers also seem to be giving appropriate weight to mobile betting. Rep. Alec Garnett, the House Majority Leader and presumptive sponsor of the bill, sees the importance.
“Nobody does this in person anymore,” Garnett recently told KRDO. “This is all done on your phone.”
Betting in-person snow sure thing in CO
The weather is more of a consideration in Colorado than in most states, too. The road from Denver to Black Hawk, for example, can become impassable during winter months. Here’s more from Garnett in a segment on Colorado Public Radio:
“If something happens on Sunday morning, a weather system moves in and the Broncos are going to be playing in 6 inches of snow, the line’s going to move. It would be unrealistic to expect somebody to drive up to Black Hawk or Central City and change that bet that they made a couple of days before.”
The representative has been paying attention to young sports betting markets elsewhere in the US too. New Jersey is reaping broad benefits from mobile wagering while Rhode Island recently figured out that sports betting without mobile is challenging.
More than 80 percent of NJ sports betting revenue comes from mobile devices, and cross-play boosted NJ online casino revenue to record levels.
CO sports betting a longshot?
This proposal to legalize Colorado sports betting will be subject to both a supermajority in the legislature and a voter referendum at the ballot box.
While it might not be legally necessary to amend the constitution — so says the attorney general — the legislature appears to feel an obligation to defer on issues related to gambling.
The Centennial State is a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) state, too, so officials can not codify new taxes without consent from voters. Garnett would simply rather not move forward if his constituents don’t want sports betting.
It’s quite possible they don’t.
Commercial gambling in Colorado is restricted to three remote towns: Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek. Voters have rejected multiple attempts to expand that landscape, including a 70 percent landslide against racetrack casinos in 2014.
If the legislature does pass the bill and voters approve, a new Colorado sports betting law could take effect as soon as Feb. 1, 2020.