Odds Long for Sports Gambling in Colorado Anytime Soon

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By Tripp Baltz

A message for sports fans in Colorado itching to place a bet on their favorite team: Not so fast.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision clearing the way for sports gambling beyond the confines of Nevada has prompted many states to move to legalize the pastime in the pursuit of new tax revenue. In Colorado, however, the road will be a bit longer than in other states, as statutory and constitutional barriers will have to be overcome before bets can be placed.

Lawmakers looking to legalize sports bets in the Centennial State will first need to repeal the state law ( Title 18, Art. 10) that prohibits sports gambling and imposes criminal penalties for violations, Michael S. Hartman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, told Bloomberg Tax.

Constitutional Restriction

Since 1991, a voter-approved constitutional amendment has allowed limited-stakes gambling—including slots, blackjack, roulette, poker, and craps—at casinos in three mountain towns—Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek, Hartman said May 25. Sports gambling isn’t permitted, per the 1992 federal prohibition that was struck down May 14 by the Supreme Court in Murphy v. NCAA.

Hartman said because the amendment was “very specific about the types of gambling it permits and the three jurisdictions where it can take place,” it’s likely the state’s constitution would have to be amended again to provide for legal sports gambling.

One question is whether sports gambling, once legalized by state statute, would be allowed only in the establishments in the three towns, or whether it would become legal statewide. That question would have to be decided by voters, whether via a referendum from the Colorado General Assembly or by citizens’ initiative.

Opinion Pending

The department has asked Attorney General Cynthia Coffman to issue a formal opinion about what it would take, Hartman said. Proponents said they expect her opinion in the fall.

“It could happen on the ballot in 2019,” Rep. Alec Garnett (D), a state legislator who is interested in sponsoring a bill to legalize sports gambling, told Bloomberg Tax. But it would take time to develop the regulatory framework, and so it’s unlikely betting would begin any earlier than 2020, he said.

Still, Garnett said, sports gambling will eventually come to Colorado—it’s only a matter of time. “If somebody wants to bet on the Broncos in the Super Bowl, they shouldn’t have to fly to Vegas to do it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ryan C. Tuck at rtuck@bloombergtax.com

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