Colorado Is The Least Responsible In Sports Betting Legislation, Study Finds

Written By Ian St. Clair on 05/24/2021 - Last Updated on July 2, 2021
colorado least responsible sports betting legislation

Colorado does a lot right when it comes to gaming and sports betting.

But there is one area that must improve, and that’s responsible gambling. The state does not do enough or put as much of an emphasis on the issue as it should. And that needs to change.

Colorado lacks in responsible gambling

There are a couple of figures that show how lacking Colorado is when it comes to responsible gaming.

As of now, the state has only allocated $400,000 a year for all problem gambling programs. For the entire state. Before sports betting, it was $200,000 a year for responsible gaming in Colorado. So the state has merely doubled the funding for a much larger pool of gamblers.

In the words of Keith Whyte, that is clearly inadequate to cover the entire state. Whyte is the executive director for the National Council on Problem Gambling.

The other bit of concerning evidence is from a recent survey that was conducted by the Colorado Gambling Compliance (CGC). In the survey, the CGC looked at nine essential elements for responsible gambling in regulation.

New Jersey had nine of nine.

Colorado had either four or five, according to Whyte.

In this survey, Colorado was the least responsible in regards to their sports betting legislation compared to any other state. And it doesn’t allocate the proper funds needed for a serious issue like responsible gaming.

Possible increase in rate and severity of gambling problems

In a word, that is unacceptable.

It could also lead to big problems down the road if it goes uncorrected.

“So that’s one of the big issues is, it’s how you legalize something like sports betting,” Whyte said. “That’s going to determine the net costs and benefits, and by skimping on the responsible gambling regulations, by skimping on the problem gambling funding, we think Colorado is going to likely experience an increase in the rate and severity of gambling problems.

“An untreated addiction always does more harm and costs more to the state than prevention and education treatment. We know this from drugs. From alcohol. We know this from every other disorder. It’s the same thing for gambling. So they’re going to pay more for a problem that they’ve created because they short-changed the addiction prevention and treatment efforts. And because they’ve got a pretty light regulatory model.”

How can Colorado improve?

The good news is there are ways to correct the missteps. But a course correction is needed sooner rather than later.

One of the suggestions that Whyte offers is to have progressive operators support an expansion of responsible gambling measures and then make sure their competitors are doing the same sort of things. The other factor that can have a big impact is to have the responsible gambling discussion and feel a sense of urgency.

“Because right now, PointsBet and BetMGM, they’ve got a pretty high standard of responsible gambling, but Colorado is letting all their competitors get away with doing very, very, very little,” he said. “And so I think it’s in the interest of the leaders in the sports betting field to make sure their peers have to do the same level of spend, the same types of investments that a larger operator like PointsBet and BetMGM has made. And you can call it competitive.

“I’m all about enlightened self-interest, but I think it places a burden on the leading operators to go to their competitors, go to the Colorado Gaming Association, and go to the regulator and say, ‘Look, we would support this higher standard. We think everybody should be to the standard that we ourselves see.’”

Operators can push their peers

If operators don’t take the lead and push their peers, Whyte said no one’s going to differentiate when there’s public costs and when there’s legislative hearings. He also added that people aren’t going to distinguish between the leaders and the followers.

“You’re going to be held to the standard of your lowest peer, not the highest,” Whyte said. “So I think that’s one thing is that the industry itself, for far too long, has said, ‘Well, if I’m Company A, I’m doing a good, responsible gambling job, it hasn’t mattered to them as much that their peers are not.’ And I think it should. I think there’s competitive reasons why it should, I think there’s good policy reasons why it should, because if there is an increase in gambling problems, everyone in the industry is going to bear the cost of additional regulation. Not just the folks that were doing it well. When the blame comes down in the press and the politicians, they don’t distinguish. It’s a broad hammer.”

Colorado can look to sister states on responsible gambling

But the regulators and the state must do more on their end.

Regulators can always adopt additional regulations around responsible gambling. They can always allocate more funds to this issue.

The fact the state hasn’t done more is a major flaw.

“These licenses have to be renewed,” Whyte said. “And so there’s easy ways to tune that compliance up a little bit and, again, it’s not as if other states haven’t done this. They could look to their sister regulators for responsible provisions that work in other states, that many companies are already accustomed to doing. Because most of our operators are multi-state. So it’s not like it’s going to be a surprise to anybody that operates in a different jurisdiction, that has to do some higher levels. I think some of these tweaks are easy, but I think it comes down to culture, at the end of it.”

The work the state puts in now will limit the work it must do later. Not to mention they’ll spend more trying to fix the problem than they would trying to prevent it. The last thing anyone wants is to look back and say, “We didn’t do enough. We should have done more.”

Colorado needs to put the work in now

Responsible gaming is too big of an issue to take lightly, to cast aside and deal with only when it’s a problem.

This issue deserves responsible measures. It also deserves responsible funding.

For all that Colorado has done right when it comes to gaming and sports betting, this is where it needs to up its game.

As Whyte said:

“If you’re trying to balance the cost and benefits of something like sports betting, there’s always more we need to learn, but some of the basic steps are pretty easy, and getting both operators and regulators on par with what is being done in other jurisdictions should be a pretty easy lift.

“And so that comes down to culture. Is an operator willing to push a little bit, to do a little bit more even if they’re not required? Is a regulator interested in looking outside their own state boundaries at what’s worked in other states and bringing it back to Colorado? If the answer’s yes, then those can be pretty easy fixes, we believe. And we believe they would benefit everyone.”

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Ian St. Clair

Ian is an award-winning sports journalist and a University of Northern Colorado graduate. He’s a Colorado native and has over a decade of experience covering college and professional athletics. He broke into the gambling industry right as Colorado launched legal sports betting in 2020. Ian now manages the sites for some of the biggest gambling markets in North America and is an analyst for PlayColorado.

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