Colorado Gambling History
Thanks to the passage of a 2019 ballot measure Proposition DD, Colorado joined the ranks of states with legal sports betting. on May 1.
With the launch of sports betting, the following types of gambling are now available in Colorado:
- Casino gambling (commercial and tribal)
- Retail and online sports betting
- State lottery (retail only)
- Pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing (online and retail)
- Off-track betting locations (simulcast racing)
- Bingo and other charitable gaming
Colorado is home to almost 40 casinos. Most of these are clustered in three small towns in the mountains. However, there are two tribal casinos in the southwestern corner of the state too.
Betting on races involving horses and greyhounds became legal in Colorado in 1948.
Due to declining interest and a change to the law in 2014, greyhounds are no longer permitted to race in the state. As a result, there is a one live racing venue remaining in Colorado, near Aurora.
The Colorado Lottery has been in service since January 1983.
Play is only available through retail outlets at this time; however, there is a mobile app for checking tickets and other information.
Coloradans can engage in numerous charitable gaming activities throughout the state, including bingo. Dozens of legal bingo halls are scattered around the Centennial State.
CO is home to a unique approach to gambling. If you are curious about the history of games of chance in Colorado, read on.
Colorado gambling timeline
Capturing the beginning of gambling in Colorado is a largely impossible task. Gambling was prevalent in the state’s frontier towns throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In fact, Colorado was a bastion of gambling in the Old West. Legendary figures like Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson were known to frequent casinos and saloons in the Rockies.
However, changes to American law eventually shuttered unregulated casino gambling in Colorado. Legal gambling in the state is the most recent development.
Here are all the legal gambling highlights in Colorado during the 20th century:
- 1948: Voters approve the Colorado Gambling on Horse and Animal Races amendment, a legislatively referred state statute, by a ratio of almost 2:1. The new law authorizes pari-mutuel wagering on horse and greyhound racing. It also creates the Colorado Racing Commission.
- 1949: Live greyhound and horse racing begin at several locations throughout CO.
- 1958: Colorado changes the state constitution to allow charitable gaming, including bingo.
- 1974: Harness racing begins in the state. Unfortunately, it was extremely unpopular and lasted only three years.
- 1982: The Colorado General Assembly creates the Colorado Lottery and the Lottery Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue.
- 1983: The Colorado Lottery begins its sales of tickets. Initially, only scratch-off tickets are permitted.
- 1990: The Colorado Limited Gaming Initiative passes on the November ballot by a vote of 57-42. The initiative legalized some gaming in the mountain towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek.
- 1991: The gaming initiative formally becomes law. Maximum bets in Colorado casinos are initially limited to $5. Casinos can’t stay open 24 hours a day.
- 2000: The Colorado Multi-State Lotteries Referendum passes by a vote of 52-48. The passage allows the state lottery to begin offering tickets to multi-state jackpot drawings, like Powerball and Mega Millions.
- 2009: Gaming limits increase to $100 per bet. Craps and roulette can join the offerings in Colorado casino locations.
- 2014: Gov. John Hickenlooper makes greyhound racing illegal under Colorado law. No greyhound races had run in the state since 2008.
- 2019: Voters narrowly approve Proposition DD, the Legalize Sports Betting with Tax Revenue for Water Projects measure. Each of Colorado’s 33 casinos can apply for a license to offer both online and retail sports betting.
- 2020: Online sports betting launches in Colorado in May. Casinos, closed as a result of COVID-19, will launch retail betting upon reopening.
How does Colorado define gambling?
Colorado’s gaming laws are precisely written to be restrictive. The original constitutional amendment, which ushered in casino gambling, is quite specific to define “limited gaming.”
The aptly named Colorado Limited Gaming Act remained unaltered until 2009. In that year, Amendment 50 changed the definition to include craps and roulette. It also raised the maximum single bet to $100.
So, according to the current incarnation of Colorado gaming law, gambling is defined as follows:
“‘Limited card games and slot machines,’ ‘limited gaming’ or ‘gaming’ means physical and electronic versions of slot machines, craps, roulette and the card games of poker and blackjack authorized by this article and defined and regulated by the commission, each game having a maximum single bet of one hundred dollars.”
The use of the word “electronic” might sound as though the groundwork for online gambling is set. However, Colorado legislators and regulators have been quite resistant to this kind of expansion in recent years.
Defining gambling in the Centennial State
Since gaming is so narrowly defined in the state, each allowed game has its own specific definition under the law.
There are only five gambling games permitted by the statute.
Here are the definitions for each of them, as written in the Limited Gaming Act (that amended language from 2009).
“Slot machine” means any mechanical, electrical, video, electronic, or other device, contrivance, or machine which, after insertion of a coin, token, or similar object, or upon payment of any required consideration whatsoever by a player, is available to be played or operated, and that, whether by reason of the skill of the player or application of the element of chance, or both, may deliver or entitle the player operating the machine to receive cash premiums, merchandise, tokens, or redeemable game credits, or any other thing of value other than unredeemable free games, whether the payoff is made automatically from the machines or in any other manner.
“Blackjack” means a banking card game commonly known as “21” or “blackjack” played by a maximum of seven players in which each player bets against the dealer.
“Poker” means a card game played by a player or players who are dealt cards by a dealer.
“Craps” means a game played by one or more players against a casino using two dice, in which players bet upon the occurrence of specific combinations of numbers shown by the dice on each throw.
“Roulette” means a game in which a ball is spun on a rotating wheel and drops into a numbered slot on the wheel, and bets are placed on which slot the ball will come to rest in.
Colorado Lottery history
The Colorado Lottery came to be in 1982.
The General Assembly generated the game and a commission to manage it as a way to fund various capital projects throughout the state.
Initially, the lottery could only sell scratch-off tickets through retail outlets. Later, the commission was able to add draw games to the mix.
Finally, voters approved a measure to allow multi-state lottery drawing tickets to be sold in Colorado. So, it is now possible to purchase Mega Millions, Powerball, and other games in the state.
Colorado Lottery tickets remain unavailable online. Although the Colorado Lottery maintains a mobile app, there cannot be any purchasing of them online.
It is necessary to go to a lottery retailer to play.
Sports betting is legal in Colorado
Proposition DD, the Legalize Sports Betting with Tax Revenue for Water Projects measure, found success at the ballot box and set the stage for the launch of CO sports betting. Proposition DD arrived on the ballot as a legislative referral. In November, voters passed the measure by a slim 51-48 margin.
Just a few months later, the first Colorado online betting apps went online in May 2020.
By law, Colorado’s commercial casinos had to apply for a license to offer sports betting. The state’s two tribal casinos will have to renegotiate their compacts to join the party.
Proposition DD allows online sports betting, so there is potential that Colorado could become quite a hotbed for mobile sports wagering. With so many casinos capable of obtaining a license, it is unlikely any major sportsbook brand will end up on the outside looking in when it comes to the Centennial State.
Given the size of the state and the dearth of sports betting states nearby, mobile sports wagering will be a critical component.
Timeline for charity gambling in Colorado
Bingo and raffles became legal in Colorado in 1958.
The amendment, “Colorado Gambling Legalization for Nonprofit Organizations,” was passed by the narrowest of margins, 51-49. Nonprofit entities in the state can offer bingo games and other contests to raise funds.
The measure has served as the legal basis for dozens of bingo halls in Colorado today. The law itself has undergone numerous revisions, most recently in 2017.
Somewhat unusually, bingo and raffles are overseen by the secretary of state in Colorado. Nonprofit organizations can both apply for and renew their licenses for $100 per year.
Needless to say, these types of games can be financial boons for strapped nonprofits.
Daily fantasy sports in Colorado
Coloradans have enjoyed legal daily fantasy sports (DFS) since 2016.
Thanks to then-Gov. Hickenlooper’s signature on H-1404, Colorado became the fifth state in the union to legalize DFS.
All major DFS operators, like DraftKings and FanDuel, offer their services in the state. Each operator is a licensed entity and is entirely within its rights to do business in Colorado.
However, smaller operators also have a defined place in Colorado, thanks to a quirk of the Colorado DFS law. As long as an operator can show that it has fewer than 7,500 users, it needs only to register in order to be a company in good standing in the state.
The result is that Colorado is a friendly place for DFS operators to set up shop. Given the state’s recent developments in sports betting, there’s no reason to assume that the opportunity for DFS will do anything but grow.
History of racing in Colorado
Animal racing is the oldest manner of legal gambling in Colorado. The first affirmative bill to allow for pari-mutuel betting passed into law in the state in 1948.
At the time, the law permitted both horse and greyhound racing to take place. However, greyhound racing is now banned altogether in Colorado. Gov. Hickenlooper issued the prohibition in 2014.
The ban was merely the final blow to the ailing industry. Colorado had already rescinded the licenses from all greyhound racing operators in the state.
Furthermore, there had been no greyhound races since 2008. An industry that drew $250 million in wagers a decade earlier had dwindled to merely $15 million.
Live horse racing has never been a major staple in Colorado, either. At this moment, Aurora’s Arapahoe Park is the lone horse racing venue in the state.
Two other horse tracks, Centennial Race Track and Pikes Peak Meadows, have come and gone over the years.
In general, the decline in Colorado has mirrored a similar trajectory for horse racing across the country.
In fact, Arapahoe Park’s reported handle was a mere $6.6 million in 2018.
Colorado is home to 12 off-track betting (OTB) locations. These facilities offer simulcasts of races and pari-mutuel wagering across the country.
Players must be 18 or older to play. It is possible to place wagers with these facilities over the phone.
Colorado bettors wagered roughly $72.5 million at the state’s OTB facilities. From that activity, the Colorado general fund received more than $500,000 in taxes.
It’s quite clear that OTBs continue to flourish in Colorado.
Online casinos and poker in Colorado
For all of its progressivism regarding various gambling activities and other behaviors, Colorado is surprisingly hesitant to embrace online casinos and poker.
There are no laws to allow online gambling in Colorado. Furthermore, it does not appear to be high on the list of legislative priorities.
Part of the problem is that legalizing online casinos and poker in the state would require a constitutional amendment. Amending a state constitution is a considerably high hurdle for advocates to negotiate.
This requirement is hard and fast, too. A 2013 opinion from the state attorney general affirmed as much to a question from the state’s Division of Gaming.
Still, with online sports betting in the offing, things can always change. A cascade of new tax revenue could potentially persuade the hearts of legislators to try new things.