Will Colorado Legalize Sports Betting Anytime Soon?

Will Colorado Legalize Sports Betting Anytime Soon

Officials in Colorado look set to push for sports betting legalization despite potential obstacles.

When the United States Supreme Court approved the legalization of sports betting in states around the country, many parties started to position themselves to take advantage. Several states, including Delaware and New Jersey, have already successfully passed sports betting laws and started to offer sports bets. Others are in the midst of doing so. While officials in Colorado look likely to go ahead with legalization, certain significant factors could potentially hold them back.

Colorado and sports betting

While sports betting legalization is not going to happen in 2018, it looks as though officials will start making serious moves sometime next year. Both the Republican and the Democratic party have been pushing for this legalization. Colorado is normally a progressive state, and a Republican assemblyman, Cole Wist, and a Democratic assemblyman, Alec Garnett, have both advocated sports betting while on Colorado Public Radio.

Speaking about the potential process towards legalization, Garnett said: “I think the best way is to come together, let’s figure out what we believe is the right balance, and go ask voters, ‘do we think this is going to work?’”

This move would require serious changes because there are currently significant restrictions on areas in which casinos can be located, and gambling laws would have to be changed significantly for this to go ahead.

There will no doubt be extensive debate regarding this topic in 2019 once the state legislative session begins again. Garnett has already outlined plans to have this issue advanced by utilizing a bill request. Each assemblyperson is allowed to work on a total of five bills during any given session.

In 1992, an amendment to the state constitution, narrowly passed by voters in the state, saw non-tribal gambling allowed in three towns: the small communities of Cripple Creek, Central City, and Black Hawk. Colorado was also one of the first states to formally introduce regulations on daily fantasy sports in 2016.

While certain legislators believe this amendment provides the basis for them to introduce legalized sports betting without needing a public vote, others are not so sure.

If it comes to a vote, the legislature will require a two-thirds majority before a voter referendum can be approved.

Significant opposition in Colorado

While the state has been progressive through the legalization of marijuana and the regulation of daily fantasy sports in recent years, it’s hardly a standard-bearer for the sports betting movement in the country.

No additional gambling establishments have been allowed to set up shop in the state since the original three started operations following the 1992 amendment. These three casinos even campaigned in 2014 to stop gaming expansion in its tracks. Two of the casinos spent over $36m (£27m) lobbying the issue – one of the priciest lobbying campaigns ever seen in the state.

Of course, they would benefit from sports betting legalization, but this could open the door to more and more gambling operators being allowed to operate in the state, which of course would be bad for business. They could very well mount a serious lobbying campaign once more if this issue is strongly considered.

There is a lot of bullish sentiment among legislators regarding sports betting legalization, but even if a consensus is reached, the next state governor will still have to approve a move. The current state governor, John Hickenlooper, has already served two terms and will be replaced by either the Republican Walker Stapleton or the Democrat Jared Polis. It is unclear as yet how the two candidates for governor will feel about this issue.

Most are of the opinion that a referendum would be needed, and it might be difficult to reach the 55% magic number of votes for a bill to be approved. All of these signs point towards 2020 at the earliest before there is any form of sports betting legalization in the state. There appear to be too many hurdles in place over the next 18 months or so for serious headway to be made on this issue.