Sports Gambling Fighting the Fix
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A sign advertising sports betting is displayed this past June at Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, N.J.

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A bill to let Colorado voters decide in November whether to allow wagering on sporting events, with a 10% state tax, won approval Monday from the House Finance Committee on a 9-1 vote.

The bipartisan HB 1327 still has to clear the House Appropriations Committee, two votes on the chamber’s floor, then do the same in the Senate. That’s the normal route for a bill, but this expansion of state gambling laws has two weeks to do it before adjournment.

The bill has powerful backing, with House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and House Republican leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, as sponsors.

Garnett said the bill aims to “eliminate the black market, which we know exists, and to create a competitive marketplace, but one that’s not too big that it can’t be effectively regulated by the Department of Revenue.”

Nine states have legalized sports betting and about 30 states are considering it since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban last year.

If voters allow it, wagering would go through existing Colorado casinos. The state’s lone horse-racing track, Arapahoe Park in Aurora, wouldn’t be included.

Local elected leaders and residents who live near Arapahoe Park told the committee they didn’t want the games at the track.

“We’re not open to it,” Garnett said of adding the racetrack. “But I think we’ve gotten to a place where everyone is in a pretty good place, including the owners of the track. We wanted to be respectful of the intent of the voters when it comes to where brick-and-mortar establishments already exist to allow betting to occur.”

Revenue from sports wagering, which Garnett estimated at up to $20 million a year, would help fund the state long-range water plan and gambling addiction treatment.

The plan to stretch out the water supply in this fast-growing state is expected to cost $100 million a year for the next 30 years.

But several of Colorado’s professional sports teams — the Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche, Colorado Mammoth and Colorado Rapids — raised concerns in a letter to the committee.

They made suggestions to protect the integrity of their sports and to let the leagues opt out of being bet on.

“With the appropriate integrity provisions, the teams would support legalized sports betting in the state; as currently drafted, we do not believe that bill provides sufficient protections for the sports or consumers or fans,” the letter states.

Voters first allowed limited-stakes games in Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City in 1991. The money supports historic preservation, community colleges and local needs.

Contact Joey Bunch at joey.bunch@coloradopolitics.com or follow him on Twitter @joeybunch.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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