Colorado legalized in-person and mobile sports betting in 2019 with a bill signed by the governor and then approved by voters via statewide referendum.
We will discuss CO sports betting in more detail below, but the short version is casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek may now apply for sports wagering licenses that will allow them to operate retail sportsbooks for in-person wagering and mobile sportsbooks for online betting.
Sports fans who are 21 or older and located anywhere inside Colorado will soon be able to sign up for mobile betting accounts and place wagers from any desktop or mobile device. The new sports betting law is scheduled to formally take effect in May 2020.
Other forms of legal online betting in Colorado include online racing betting, daily fantasy sports and games of skill. Online casinos and poker sites remain a possibility if the appropriate legislation is passed, but the focus right now centers entirely around the issue of sports betting.
Legal Betting Sites Today
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Games of Skill:
In Colorado, residents may participate in online sports betting, horse racing betting, greyhound betting, fantasy sports and skill games. All of the above websites are hosted here in the United States and operate under the authority of both state and federal laws.
Up until May of 2018, the federal government prohibited sports betting across most of the nation. The Supreme Court ended that prohibition in 2018 to give individual states the authority to make their own laws regarding sports betting. Now, the states are free to decide on their own how to manage sports betting, online poker and online gambling.
Most states are fine with greyhound and horse race betting, fantasy sports and skill games. Internet poker and casino games are a more divisive issue. Previously, casino games and poker were banned at the federal level. The Department of Justice changed its stance on those games in 2011, which gave states the authority to legalize those forms of gaming as well.
As we all know, the wheels of government turn slowly. Most states still haven’t acted to legalize online gambling or poker. To date, only a handful of states have enacted legislation to legalize one or both activities. Colorado may soon join the list of states that allow those games but for now, players are limited to the following forms of online gaming.
Colorado Sports Betting
Legal sports betting is coming to Colorado beginning May 1st, 2020.
The sports betting bill approved by voters during the November 2019 election allows casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek to offer in-person and mobile betting to customers who are 21 or older and located within state lines.
The law is written to take effect on May 1st, 2020, but the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission is permitted to draft sports betting regulations and accept license applications before that date. This means we may in fact be able to place our first wagers on or around May 1st.
How Colorado Legalized Sports Betting
Colorado legalized sports betting by first passing HB19-1327 through the legislature. The governor signed the bill into law, but because it instituted a new tax (on sports betting operators), it had to go to a statewide referendum and be approved by a majority of voters.
The question was added to the November 2019 ballot as Proposition DD and was written exactly as follows:
Shall state taxes be increased by twenty-nine million dollars annually to fund state water projects and commitments and to pay for the regulation of sports betting through licensed casinos by authorizing a tax on sports betting of ten percent of net sports betting proceeds, and to impose the tax on persons licensed to conduct sports betting operations?
This measure could not possibly have been better written if its goal was to turn voters off to sports betting. Proponents feared many voters would read the words “shall state taxes be increased” and instantly object without reading the rest of the question.
The awkward phrasing of the question was not, in fact, a clever ploy undertaken by anti-gambling types in Colorado. It was worded that way because Colorado’s TABOR Amendment requires all tax increases to be approved by voters and the question phrased a certain way.
The CO sports betting legislation did not actually raise taxes on anyone; it simply legalized sports wagering and established a 10% tax rate. Even so, that was enough to trigger TABOR protocols dealing with voter approval and question phrasing.
Ultimately, Colorado voters approved sports betting by a narrow margin. Now that the voters have spoken, Colorado may proceed with plans to implement retail and mobile sports betting.
A Look Inside the New Colorado Sports Betting Law
Each existing casino in Colorado may apply for a master license for sports betting. A master license allows each casino to launch an in-person sportsbook as well as one mobile betting app accessible to customers across the state.
Casinos may also partner with third party operators to manage their sportsbooks and betting sites. One casino might partner with DraftKings Sports, another might partner with Rush Street Interactive and so on.
The bill calls for a reasonable 10% tax rate and does not include either of the controversial measures requiring an integrity fee or the use of official data that we have seen pop up in some other states.
The Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission is tasked with regulating the industry, considering licenses, monitoring licensees and issuing additional regulations as needed. The LGCC will also establish a licensing fee to reflect the cost of processing license applications. HB19-1327 only states that the fee is not to exceed $125,000.
Types of Wagers Authorized in the CO Sports Betting Bill
State law is fairly permissive in terms of what types of wagering are allowed. Colorado law permits betting on pro sports, college sports and amateur events such as the Olympics. Wagers on high school sports are prohibited.
However, the bill restricts proposition bets on college games. This means customers will not be able to wager on how many TDs the current QB for the Buffaloes will throw in his next game.
The bill also mentions eSports betting, but only for events that are licensed by a sports governing body:
“[Prohibited wagers include bets on] A video game that is not sanctioned by a sports governing body as an electronic competition…”
Colorado Racing Betting
Horse racing betting is legal in Colorado.
Fans 18 or older can place wagers online through licensed ADWs, in-person at one of 11 off-track betting facilities and at the state’s single racetrack, Arapahoe Park in Aurora.
The Racing Division of the Department of Revenue oversees horse racing and parimutuel wagering in Colorado.
Online Racing Betting
The Racing Division also oversees online racing betting in Colorado. The division maintains an active list of licensed advance deposit wagering providers here.
A note on the Racing Division website also warns residents that it is illegal to place wagers with unauthorized betting sites, although we are unaware of a resident ever being prosecuted for betting with an illegal racing betting site.
Even so, we recommend sticking with licensed options. The Racing Division has approved a good number of ADWs to date and all are regulated and headquartered in the USA. Additionally, wagers placed with licensed providers are always paid at full track odds.
Live horse racing in Colorado consists of a single racetrack, Arapahoe Park in Aurora. Arapahoe Park hosts live racing every weekend from May through August each year in addition to simulcast racing during the live racing season.
26000 East Quincy Avenue
Aurora, CO 80016
Eleven off-track betting facilities operate across the state and a full list of locations can be found here.
Greyhound racing is not prohibited in Colorado, but there are no active greyhound tracks as of today. Greyhound fans may bet on races through licensed ADWs that cover greyhound tracks – with BetAmerica being the most prominent option.
The Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) specifically exempted fantasy sports betting from the prohibitions it placed on online gaming. Fantasy sports betting is now considered a game of skill and is considered legal by default unless a state chooses to enact legislation restricting fantasy sports.
Most states have nothing to say on the matter, but fantasy sports are good to go in Colorado. Colorado legalized fantasy sports in 2016. Fixed-odds betting (like you’d see at a sportsbook) is still illegal over the internet but there’s nothing stopping you from putting your skills to use at any of the following fantasy betting sites.
In 2016, Colorado lawmakers drafted a fantasy sports regulation bill and sent it to the governor’s desk. That bill was signed into law by governor Hickenlooper on June 6, 2016. HB 16-1404 includes a variety of regulations that are designed to provide consumer protection for fantasy players in Colorado.
The bill requires fantasy site operators to:
- Hold player funds in an account segregated from operational funds
- Prevent anyone under the age of 18 from participating
- Prevent the sharing of confidential information available to fantasy site employees
- Submit to an annual third-party audit
- Sites with fewer than 7500 active Colorado players do not need to apply for a license or submit to an annual audit, but they do need to follow all other regulations
Recommended fantasy sites in Colorado:
Online Gambling and Poker in Colorado
Colorado is on the shortlist of states to legalize online gambling and poker within the next several years. State lawmakers drafted an online poker bill in 2013 but it never became a formal proposal. Nevertheless, the state is primed for something to take shape with industry insiders monitoring the situation and preparing for all possibilities.
An article in the Denver Post obtained the following quote from Troy Stremming, executive vice president of the Ameristar Blackhawk’s parent company:
“This is something we are following very closely. Internet gaming continues to evolve state-by-state, and through ever-changing technology. With respect to Colorado, when there is a piece of legislation to review, we can make decisions based on whether or not participation will be beneficial to the company.”
Although it is far from an outright endorsement of online betting, it indicates that industry leaders acknowledge the likelihood of online gaming coming to Colorado. Rather than outright opposing it, they are prepared to take advantage of any changes in the law.
The Colorado Gaming Association has already met with lawmakers interested in pushing forward on internet gaming and also seems open to the idea. In fact, it was the Colorado Gaming Association who helped draft the 2013 bill mentioned above. All indications we’ve seen from the industry are either supportive of or undecided on online gaming. It is always a good sign when key groups refuse to outright oppose sweeping legislation.
Skill Games for Money
For a game to be considered a “game of skill” the outcome must be overwhelmingly determined by skill and not luck. Each state has a different take on what the exact differences are between games of chance and games of skill. At least one website specializes in hosting real money games in which skill is the predominant factor in determining the outcome.
Examples of skill games include the likes of Yahtzee, Spades, Hearts and even virtual pool. As long as the games are based on skill and the operator has no vested interest in who wins or loses, it is legal to play and organize contests of skill.
The Colorado lottery is not offered online in any form. State laws strictly prohibit the sale of lottery tickets over the internet or by any means other than licensed retailers. The state took it even further in 2014 with the passage of HB 1142 to put it in writing:
THE COMMISSION SHALL NOT PROMULGATE ANY RULE, ISSUE ANY ORDER, OR ADOPT ANY POLICY OR INTERPRETATION BEFORE JULY 1, 2017, THAT AUTHORIZES OR PERMITS THE PURCHASE OF TICKETS, INCLUDING INSTANT SCRATCH TICKETS, OR SHARES BY MEANS OF THE INTERNET, TELEPHONE, COMPUTER, OR ANY OTHER ELECTRONIC DEVICE OR EQUIPMENT THAT THE PURCHASER CAN ACCESS OR USE TO PURCHASE LOTTERY TICKETS OTHER THAN BY DOING SO PERSONALLY AT A LICENSED LOTTERY SALES AGENT’S PHYSICAL PLACE OF BUSINESS.
That bit of legislation is out of date by now, but still it shows the level of opposition online lottery games face in Colorado. Nothing has changed since then and the state still does not offer online lottery sales or mail-in subscription services.
The only lottery subscription service available in Colorado is Advance Play, which is offered by authorized retailers. Through Advance Play, customers may enter up to 26 drawings in advance for Powerball, Mega Millions and Lotto and up to 91 drawings for Cash 5.
Is it legal to gamble in Colorado?
The Colorado Criminal Code restricts both the business of gambling and the act of gambling with the exception of “social gambling.” No one may operate a gambling game in which the house earns a profit. There is an exception: it is legal to gamble under social circumstances in which the participants have a bona fide social relationship outside of gambling.
Article 10 of Title 18 defines gambling as “risking any money, credit, deposit, or other thing of value for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device, or the happening or outcome of an event, including a sporting event, over which the person taking a risk has no control, but does not include bona fide contests of skill.”
Theoretically, individuals could be charged under this law for participating in online casino games or sports betting. However, the state has never once attempted to prosecute a person for gambling online. Horse betting, greyhound betting and fantasy sports are exempt from this law.
The act of playing poker online is still in a bit of a legal grey area. Many Coloradoans still play at unlicensed offshore poker sites but the authorities have made no attempt to crack down on the activity. In 2009, the Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling that classified poker as a contest of skill. This was a short live victory for poker proponents however, as that ruling was later struck down.
If you do choose to play at unlicensed gambling sites, it is unlikely you will face any legal action. The biggest risk would be losing your money to rogue operators based out of other countries. If anything were to happen to your money at an offshore betting site, there would be little chance of ever recovering that money.