How Colorado Legalized Gambling

Colorado Rocky Mountains With Casino Background

Recently, the state of Colorado decided to legalize gambling.  In other words, the Colorado legislature passed HB19-1327 which set up a state referendum to legalize gambling and the measure then passed.  In 2020, Colorado will be another state in which you can get high and gamble–legally–in the same state.

While this prospect is certainly exciting for Colorado gamblers (and those who live within driving distance of Colorado casinos), the passing of legalized gambling will have effects throughout the state in terms of more tourism dollars and more taxes.

To that end, it’s interesting to look at how the idea to legalize gambling in Colorado started, who sponsored the bill and how it eventually became law.  Hopefully, this article will either get you excited to visit Colorado (which has interesting non-gambling things to do, or so I’ve been told) or get gambling legalized in your state.

The Genesis of Legalized Gambling in Colorado

The start of legalized gambling in Colorado began in May of 2018 when the Supreme Court declared a Federal-level ban on sports betting was unconstitutional.  Given the FBI’s role in shutting down other forms of gambling, this decision was both surprising and timely.

Amongst proponents of legalized gambling, the laws the Federal government use to stop gambling are antiquated and rely on a provision in RICO laws that specifically deals with technologies like telephones.  Proponents have always said that the Internet, which stopped using modems long ago, should not be governed by RICO laws and internet gambling and sports betting should be legal.  That’s the timely part.

View of Colorado Casinos

The Federal ban’s removal is also surprising given the large number of anti-gambling movements (which tend to be conservative) and the power they’ve often held in the gambling debate.

Still, after the measure gained the support of Democratic majority leader Alec Garnett, the measure to legalize sports betting eventually passed.  The benefit, according to the bill, will be to funnel millions of dollars to help update the state’s outdated water infrastructure.

What the Bill Means for Colorado

The passage of legalized gambling in Colorado is not a broad mandate for all types of legal gaming.  The scope of legalization applies only to sports betting.  This, sadly, doesn’t open the way for Colorado Internet gambling or gambling parlors in every location.

The bill also sets up statewide taxing on sports betting income.  The state is allowed to take ten percent of all winnings in taxes, which is lower than a lot of states where closer to a one-third of revenue is taken in taxes.  (Frankly, one cannot help but wonder if the state’s liberal marijuana policies and the taxes from that aren’t working in the sports books’ favor.)

The strangest part of the bill, though, is the target for the sportsbook revenue (which is estimated to be around two million dollars annually.)  In 2015, Governor John Hickenlooper designed a water plan for Colorado, a state facing chronic water shortages.  However, the plan faced deep fiscal shortages that the passage of legalized sports betting will help to correct.

Who Sponsored the First Bill

That’s perhaps the most interesting (and if you are worried about the state of modern politics, best) part of this entire arrangement.  HB19-1327 is the original bill that was passed in Colorado.

It names four sponsors: Representatives Alec Garnett and Patrick Neville and Senators Kerry Donovan and John Cooke.

If you’re not a denizen of the state of Colorado (and frankly, even if you are), I don’t expect that to mean anything to you.  So, let’s dive into it a little bit more.

As mentioned above, Garnett is the House Major Leader and is a Democrat.  Neville, is the Colorado House Minority Leader and is a Republican.  Similarly, Donovan is a Democrat and is the Majority Whip in the Colorado State Senate.  Finally, Cooke is the Assistant Minority Leader which makes him a Republican.

In other words, this bill’s bipartisan support couldn’t get much stronger.  The number one Democrat and Republican in the House and two higher ups in the Senate, one from each party, all put their name on this bill.

While it might be cynical to say that it took something like real money gambling (and a whole lot of tax revenue) to bring both parties to the table, it is clear that the broad support in both parties did help smooth along the passage of the bill.

Politics Around Voting on the Bill

With that said, even with broad bipartisan support, getting it passed was far from a slam dunk.  The first opposition came from the bill itself.  Opponents of legalized sports betting felt the ballot initiative was poorly worded and made promises about millions of dollars that it couldn’t, necessarily, back up.

Second, the additional politics around the bill made for strange bed fellows.  In this case, Gary Wockner, an environmentalist, and Jeff Hunt, a conservative Christian found themselves on the same side of the issue.

Wockner, never a fan of Governer Hickenlooper’s original water plan, felt that passage of this bill would just fund something he would rather see done away with.  In the end, he ended up leading the charge against the bill that would ultimately prove unsuccessful.

Hunt, on the other hand, opposed sports betting on purely moral grounds.  His Christian Centennial Institute’s position is that gambling is immoral and should not be allowed on that basis.  (With that said, one wonders how the Christian Centennial Institute felt about the legalization of marijuana.)

Monarch Casino in Colorado

At some level, Hunt’s not entirely wrong.  Gambling does have it shady side, it’s addictive, and has led to turmoil in the past.  To that end, Hunt also brought out the often-used argument that gambling affects the poor more than those who have money.

It’s an interesting argument and one that’s far beyond the scope of this article.  It’s definitely worth researching whether it is true for any demographic in a particular area.  For instance, did gambling overwhelmingly negatively affect the poor in neighboring states like Kansas?

Either way, despite the best efforts of Hunt and Wockner, proponents of the bill managed to raise a couple of million dollars to support it.  Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, most of this money came from the gaming industry.  Also, proponents of the bill were smart enough to couch most of their political ads around helping the water system and left gambling (and its moral implications out of it.)

While perhaps not a clean win, in politics things rarely are and now Colorado will support betting on sports.

What Legalized Gambling Means for the Future of Colorado?

It’s impossible to know for sure what the effects of this legislation will have on the state of Colorado.  What we do know is that the state is setting itself up to be a tourist destination for reasons that have nothing to do with blue skies and majestic mountains.

Still, if I were a betting man, I would say the state water plan is going to be receiving its millions in funding for a long time to come.  If nothing else, getting water to Coloradoans is not a horrible outcome.

The state is already known for its legal marijuana. Now, it could be well known for its gambling.

It already has a prominent professional sports team in the big sports (yes, even the Broncos) and it’s not too hard to think that people from all across the country will start to fly into Colorado for a weekend of mountain climbing, recreational marijuana use, and placing bets.

In other words, Colorado could become Las Vegas’s summer retreat.  Seriously, why go to the desert in 120 degree heat when you can head to Colorado and be a lot cooler?

I’m not saying that will happen for sure, but it’s definitely a possibility.


The case of legalized sports betting in Colorado is an interesting case study, especially if you live in a state where you cannot currently place a wager.

A lot of things had to go right for this bill to pass.  First, the fact that it got broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate was enough to virtually guarantee that the bill would pass.

Even still, proponents of legalized gambling had to work their magic.  It costs millions of dollars to get the bill passed and that money was spent on some fairly political ads.  Even more importantly, the existing gambling infrastructure (local casinos and sites like supported legalized sports betting and worked to make it happen.

In the end, though, Colorado got the right to bet.

If you want to bet in your home state, hopefully this gives you some hope.  Your state may not be as wild as Colorado politically, but there does seem to be a desire to legalize gaming and collect that beautiful tax revenue.