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Sports betting in Colorado could be a long shot

May 14, 2018 Updated: May 14, 2018 at 5:43 pm
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In this March 15, 2018 photo, people watch coverage of the first round of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the Westgate Superbook sports book in Las Vegas. The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Don't expect to legally place bets on the Denver Broncos or other favorite sports teams anytime soon in Colorado, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that eliminated federal laws blocking sports betting in most states.

Gambling and gaming in Colorado are tightly controlled by a 1992 state constitutional amendment, and any changes to gambling laws could require voter approval - at least outside the three towns where other forms of gambling are already legal.

The biggest question is whether such a change could be done by legislation or would require a ballot measure, said Peggy O'Keefe, executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association.

Gambling outside of Indian reservations in Colorado is limited to the three towns that voters authorized to have it: Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk.

"If the state moves forward to allow sports gambling (via legislation), it's likely that it would take place only in those three mountain communities," O'Keefe told Colorado Politics.

If other jurisdictions want to allow sports betting, they would need statewide voter approval.

But Colorado voters have overwhelmingly rejected efforts to expand state gambling. A 2014 ballot measure to allow gaming on horse races lost by a margin of about 70 percent to 30 percent. A 2004 measure to allow video lottery terminals at racetracks was opposed by 80 percent of Colorado voters. Voters also have said no, repeatedly, to gaming proposed for Trinidad, downtown Denver, Parachute and other towns.

Still, O'Keefe said, "We're pleased with the Supreme Court's decision because it allows Colorado to determine whether sports gambling would be allowed within the state borders."

She said her association's members still are reviewing the ruling and haven't begun to consider which lawmakers they could tap for a bill next year if legislation on sports betting proves to be possible.

But lawmakers already are thinking about it. House Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, tweeted Monday: "Pulled the bill title to explore Colorado solution to legalized sports betting. Why should Coloradans have to travel to Vegas to bet on #Broncos winning #SBLIII?"

Pulling a bill title means a lawmaker has decided to sponsor a bill on a particular topic in the next legislative session.

And Garnett likely won't be alone. His counterpart on a number of bills in the 2018 session, House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, said he's interested in teaming with Garnett on the issue.

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