Colorado lawmakers beat a deadline to push through a bill for the legalization of sports betting just before the state’s 2019 legislative session concluded Friday. Now the bill will need to go before voters in the fall.
And that vote would ultimately determine the fate of legal wagering on sports in Colorado.
The bipartisan bill, HB 19-1327, by which Colorado would join the growing list of states to legalize sports betting, was introduced April 18 in the House by Democratic House Majority Leader Alec Garnett and Republican Minority Leader Patrick Neville. The bill passed the House earlier this week.
Then on Friday, the state's Senate passed its sports betting bill. Some minor details remain but getting the bill to Gov. Jared Polis is a mere formality. But his signature will not make the measure a law. Only the voters can do that.
Colorado’s state constitution requires that the measure would need to be put before a public vote because there is a 10 percent tax associated with the bill.
That vote would occur in Colorado’s general election in November.
In 2014, Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected – by 70 percent to 30 percent – a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would’ve allowed racetracks to expand gaming operations at its facilities.
However, the perception of legalized sports betting has altered considerably in the past five years as the practice has been exploding in popularity throughout the United States.
Colorado is among several states considering legislation that would legalize sports betting, with several having accomplished that since May 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban that prohibited sports gaming beyond Nevada.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, legal sportsbooks have become operational in eight states (including Nevada), and several states are expected to have sportsbooks open by the end of the year.
HB 19-1327 would levy a 10 percent tax on net proceeds on any Colorado gaming facility that opened a sportsbook. And of the 10 percent total tax revenue collected, 6 percent would annually be used to aid those negatively affected by gambling.
The 10 percent tax rate, which goes into effect May 2020, is about the same as what Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey and West Virginia enacted when each legalized sports betting last year. Nevada’s 6.75 percent tax on gross revenue is the lowest in the nation.
The revenue Colorado generates from legalized sports betting would be directed toward funding the state water plan and other public purposes. Projections estimate upward of $15 million will be generated via legalized sports betting annually, though critics contend that this figure is unrealistic and unlikely to be met each year.
HB 19-1327 would permit online wagering and an individual would not have to be physically on-site at a licensed Colorado gaming facility to bet using an electronic device like a mobile phone, computer or tablet. And unlike some states that requires bettors to register at a gaming facility before wagering electronically, Colorado would not institute a similar policy.
Colorado has 33 licensed casinos, with the majority located in the mountainous cities of Central City, Black Hawk or Cripple Creek. The Colorado Division of Gaming would oversee the state’s proposed legalized sports betting industry.