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Even with sports on hold, sports betting in Colorado gets off to a surprising start.

Let’s go back to May 1, 2020—the day had arrived. Thanks to voters (narrowly) passing Proposition DD in the 2019 election, Colorado became the latest state to legalize sports betting, made possible by a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a law banning the activity in most states.

he idea was that this exciting new option would be available just in time for the Kentucky Derby, basketball and hockey playoffs, and the start of the Major League Baseball season, just to name the major sporting events that, in a typical year, take place in that exciting month.

But 2020 developed differently than anyone expected. The coronavirus pandemic put everything on hold in the United States, and none of those big league sports were available for bettors looking to place a juicy wager. But a strange thing happened, nonetheless.

Coloradans went online or on various mobile apps and placed bets. On table tennis and mixed martial arts. On eSports and Chinese baseball. Even Belorussian soccer drew wagers for the money line, spread, and over/under. In total, the first 31 days of this new era in sports betting in our state amounted to a staggering $25.6 million.

“I think people are hungry for sports in general,” says Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado division of gaming, part of the department of revenue. He is responsible for the regulation and enforcement of the new gaming regulations in the state. “People found opportunities in obscure sports, and they really dug into what was out there. I think it shows that the Colorado market is robust, and it’s going to be a great sports market.”

Betting Sidebar

Summer 2020 progressed, and even with none of Americans’ beloved domestic sports taking place in June, betting numbers skyrocketed to more than $38 million in June, and then, with the return of the MLB, NBA, and NHL in late July, the totals rose to more than $59 million.

The continuation of those big three sports led to a 117% explosion in August as online sports wagers amounted to more than $128 million—more than the first three months combined. The NFL joined the fray in September, and that number swelled to more than $207 million.

Yeah, it’s a big deal.

“We’ve been on board since day one, and it’s gone over very well,” says Christine Gabaldon, director of marketing at Triple Crown Casinos in Cripple Creek. “We didn’t reopen until June 15, but well before that, we saw that Coloradans were embracing online sports betting. We’ve seen very positive reactions.”

The law specifies a 10% tax to be paid by sports betting operators based on their profits rather than by bettors on their winnings. According to the department of revenue, the majority of the new tax revenue will help support Colorado’s Water Plan, a comprehensive vision for the state’s water future. Some of the revenue will also be used for problem gambling services, including a hotline.

Pandemic or Not, Betting Is Here to Stay

Because of the coronavirus restrictions that were in place in May, players had no option other than to go online or through their smartphones to place their bets. Even when in-person gaming reopened this summer at casinos in Cripple Creek, Black Hawk, and Central City, most people preferred to stay within their own cozy confines.

In fact, mobile betting accounted for 98% of wagers in September with only 2% placed in one of 11 retail locations statewide.

“The lion’s share of bets here are online,” Hartman says. “It’s more about the way Colorado is so vast and in between things. We’re a mobile state. Unless you live near Denver, you have to plan a day trip.”

Nick Epstein, the new sportsbook manager at Monarch Casino Black Hawk, hopes people will return to face-to-face interaction and says it’s about more than just people placing bets. Epstein encourages patrons to seek a complete experience at Monarch, which soon will feature an all-new spa and rooftop pool.

“Soon, our property will be a one-stop shop in Black Hawk,” Epstein says. “You can enjoy a beautiful room, wake up and have breakfast, watch games, and enjoy the rest of the day. What I want to build here is personalized service.”

How To Get Started

As of late 2020, there were 16 mobile apps and 11 retail operators on the market with each rolling out enticing offers, deals, and promotions to reel you in. In the end, folks will shop around and find the app or mobile site that works for them, just like finding a good deal online.

“Operators have to keep innovating and keep being new,” Hartman says, “and keep providing good products and good odds, or players might move to another app. It’s just like shopping. You’re probably not going to go with the first good price you see. You’re going to look at all of the stores and get the best deal. Players will probably stick with one they feel most comfortable with but still might check others as they go. They’ll stick to the ones they like.”