Even though the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out federal laws blocking sports betting in most states, don’t expect to be placing bets on the Denver Broncos or another favorite sports team anytime soon in Colorado.
That’s because gambling and gaming in Colorado are tightly controlled by a 1992 state constitutional amendment, and any changes to the state’s gambling laws could require voter approval – at least outside the three towns where other forms of gambling are already legal.
Peggy O’Keefe is the executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association and lobbies on behalf of the association’s members at the Capitol. She said the biggest question about allowing sports betting within Colorado’s borders is whether it could be done by legislation or would require a ballot measure.
O’Keefe told Colorado Politics on Monday that non-reservation gambling is limited to just the three communities that already have authorized it: Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk.
“If the state moves forward to allow sports gambling (via legislation), it’s likely that it would take place only in those three mountain communities,” she said Monday.
Other communities could decide they want to allow sports betting, but under the 1992 constitutional amendment, the community would have to seek statewide voter approval and then approval by the community itself.
O’Keefe said that historically, voters have rejected any other efforts to expand gambling beyond the three towns that allow it.
Colorado voters have said no, and overwhelmingly so, to the expansion of gambling in Colorado. A 2014 ballot measure lost by a margin of 70 percent to 29 percent to allow horse track racing gaming. And a 2004 ballot measure on video lottery terminals at racetracks died by an even bigger margin, 80 percent to 19 percent.
Voters also have said no, repeatedly, to gaming expansion to Trinidad, Parachute, downtown Denver and selected communities on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.
Only when the question was put to voters about gaming in the three mountain towns did those measures succeed.
“We’re pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision because it allows Colorado to determine whether sports gambling would be allowed within the state borders,” O’Keefe said.
She said her members are reviewing the court’s decision and have not yet started thinking about which lawmakers they could tap for a bill in the 2019 session.
But lawmakers are already definitely thinking about it. Monday afternoon, House Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver posted the following:
Pulling a bill title means a lawmaker has decided that one of his/her five bills for the next legislative session will cover a particular topic.
And he likely won’t be alone: his counterpart on a number of bills in the 2018 session, House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial, said he’s interested in teaming up with Garnett on the issue.