DENVER – Some Colorado lawmakers want to ask voters in November whether sports betting should be legal in the state.
Democratic House Majority Leader Alec Garnett said a bill introduced late Thursday with Republican Minority Leader Patrick Neville would place a betting question on the ballot.
If voters approve, a relatively constrained Colorado sports betting market could be operating by 2020, Garnett said. State tax revenues would be limited – anywhere from roughly $4 million to $10 million a year, he said.
Lawmakers would have to work quickly to pass the bill before Colorado’s legislative session ends May 3.
Garnett said a major objective is to eliminate online black market betting, much of it run by shops outside the country.
Gambling is strictly controlled in Colorado. In 1990, voters approved legal gambling in three communities, with certain limited exceptions. Gambling also is offered by the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes.
Games generally are restricted to card games, slots and roulette. Payouts are relatively limited compared with gambling operations in other states. Maximum bets are $100.
Voters would be asked whether to apply a 10% flat tax on net sports betting proceeds. If approved, businesses can apply for licenses. The question comes in the form of a tax increase request because any Colorado tax increase, by law, must be approved by voters.
Parent companies operating 33 casinos in Colorado could seek licenses that would include online and sports gambling apps and limited onsite betting, Garnett said. Operators would determine their own cash limits on bets, which could apply to professional and college sports teams, including inside Colorado.
Tax revenue would go to a state water plan that seeks to meet the needs of the growing metropolitan Denver area and agricultural communities. Some of the money also could go to gambling addiction programs, Garnett said.
Republican Sen. John Cooke and Democratic Sen. Kerry Donovan are sponsoring the bill in that chamber.
Bill drafters followed legal opinions by attorneys general Cynthia Coffman and her successor, Phil Weiser, that Colorado’s constitutional restrictions on gambling don’t apply to sports betting – but its criminal code does, and lawmakers would have to change that if voters want it legalized.
Legal sports betting has grown since New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case last year clearing the way for all 50 states to offer sports betting should they choose to do so. A federal law previously limited sports betting to Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
“This is a market that is going to continue to mature,” Garnett said of states adopting or pursuing sports betting.
Colorado, he added, has “quite a libertarian streak. ... If you want to (bet), government shouldn’t be the one that says you can’t.”
It’s unknown how Colorado’s proposal would affect gambling offered by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Southern Ute Tribe. The tribes had agreed in a compact with the state to conduct limited gambling with the same $100 bet limits that other casinos in Colorado adhere to.