Two politicians are planning to make 2019 the year for legal sports gambling in Colorado. The bipartisan duo believes they can convince two-thirds of the legislature and a majority of eligible voters to legalize sports betting in the Centennial State.
Representatives Alec Garnett (D-Denver) and Cole Wist (R-Centennial) are betting on the payoff being worth the political risk they will undertake in efforts to legalize sports gambling. The two started discussing the idea of allowing Colorado residents to bet on the Rockies, Broncos, and other sports this past May when the Supreme Court overturned the 26-year-old federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada. That made it possible for each state to set its own rules and regulations regarding the activity. Several states have so far opened legal sportsbooks and several more are in the process.
Casino gambling in Colorado was made legal until 1991, and when asked, voters say they want it kept to the towns of Cripple Creek, Central City, and Blackhawk. In 2014, an amendment was proposed to expand the activity to some racetrack and it failed when 70 percent of the state’s voters said “no.”
In 2016, Garnett and Wist successfully convinced other legislators to legalize fantasy sports leagues. That success has prompted the duo to push for sports betting. They could potentially skip asking the voters and instead just talk their colleagues into legalizing it; sportsbooks could then become operational for summer 2019.
The Attorney General for the state, Cynthia Coffman, published an opinion in August stating that under the state’s constitution, sports betting isn’t subject to the gambling restrictions. However, she went on to say that it “is prohibited gambling under Colorado’s current criminal code. “Whether or not sports gaming should be legalized in our state will ultimately be up to the legislature to determine.”
Title 18 in the Colorado Revised Statutes prohibits online, land-based, and mobile sports betting in the state. This means that lawmakers will have to change or repeal Title 18.
Legal experts looked into the constitutional amendment that allows “limited gambling” in Cripple, Central City, and Blackhawk includes sports gambling. Ms Coffman ruled that the 1992 amendment doesn’t apply to sportsbooks, thus ruling out the possibility that sportsbooks could be added to the existing casinos right away, without having to wait to pass legislation that is required for the rest of the state. Coffman continued by saying:
“Because commercial sports betting, as contemplated in this formal opinion, is not ‘limited gaming,’ this constitutional provision is not relevant.”
Spokespersons for gaming venues in Central City, Blackhawk, and Cripple Creek are voicing criticism of the AG’s decision. They dispute “whether a sitting AG has the authority to declare the legality of the gambling laws in the state. That means the legality question of sports betting is likely going to appear in a Colorado state courthouse.
The Colorado Gaming Association, or CGA, publicly opposes Colorado’s Attorney General:
“The Colorado courts only give ‘respectful consideration’ to attorney general opinions and, many times, find that an AG’s opinion is incorrect. Attorney General Coffman’s conclusion that horse and dog racing are ‘not materially different’ than professional and collegiate sports betting is factually and, we believe, legally incorrect.”
Changing the criminal code of Colorado in favor of sports betting won’t be as easy as some might think, even if legalizing it could be done without a public vote. Both legislative houses would have to pass a sports betting bill and then whoever wins the 2018 gubernatorial race would have to sign the bill into law.
On this matter, Coffman stated the following:
“I anticipate that the members of the General Assembly will receive substantial input from their constituents and other stakeholders regarding the potential societal consequences or benefits that will need to be weighed carefully to ensure the appropriate outcome for Colorado.”
All of this legal posturing from involved parties has definitely made Colorado a difficult state to predict whether or not sports betting will actually become legalized in 2019. With the opposing sides lining up for a legal and public battle, it feels like sports betting won’t be ready until at least 2020, if at all.
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