DENVER — Legal sports betting in Colorado debuted May 1.

Check out these first-month returns, and hold on to your pingpong paddles.

Of all the stats, graphs and projections tossed about during the coronavirus pandemic, this one stands alone: Colorado sports bettors in May gambled $6.5 million on table tennis, according to the state’s Department of Revenue.

Don’t paddle yourself. The sports gambling ball in Colorado just started bouncing.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to get people away from table tennis to bet on the Broncos,” laughs Dan Hartman, director of the division of gaming. “But we’re going to try.”

And I'm not sure whether to applaud the ingenuity of Colorado's bettors or take you all to a meeting.

If Colorado’s gambling that kind of money at a time when pro sports are on virus hiatus, what are we talking about in August, September and October — when the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB are scheduled to return all at the same time?

“It’s going to be nine figures for sure,” says Nick Epstein, the sportsbook manager at Monarch Casino.

Given the early numbers, that’s not a stretch. When the state revealed Monday that Colorado sports bettors wagered $25.6 million in May — largely without games, races or tournaments on which to wager — a late-summer, early fall haul of $100 million suddenly seemed possible.

The May numbers, without sports as we know them, are astounding. There’s the $6.5 million on table tennis, and if bettors loved it that much their wagers won’t vanish when sports return; $1.7 million on Mixed Martial Arts, or UFC; $1.6 million on baseball (played in other countries, namely South Korea); $1.5 million on soccer; $1.4 million on golf (thanks, Peyton and Tom); and $7.9 million on parlays, which can be a combination of multiple sports. Some of the other draws: roughly $708,000 on tennis, $520,000 on motor sports, $133,000 on darts.

The betting catalog here includes “thousands” of potential wagers, Hartman says. Coming soon are hot dog eating contests. Chew on that, Joey Chestnut.

Critics of the May 1 launch suggested the state would be wise to wait until sports return in full.

“It’s turned out to be a good move,” Hartman says.

Ya think?

“The numbers that we see far exceed what we thought there would be with no sports,” Hartman says.

Major League Baseball has a start date of July 23. The NBA, July 30. The NHL, Aug. 1. The NFL is business as usual, minus two preseason games per team. That, for sports bettors, is the Kentucky Derby, March Madness and Christmas all rolled into one month. But it’s not simply the return of sports that portends a windfall for the 25 operators approved for licenses in Colorado.

It’s more of a perfect storm: sports' return, more operators online (only seven or eight operators are up and running) and the likelihood fans will be limited from attending games. Money spent on tickets won't be spent on tickets anymore. Mobile betting apps work from the couch.

“It’s certainly encouraging. With the whole pandemic, people are losing their jobs, losing their livelihoods, and there’s still time to get on the phone to bet on table tennis,” says Epstein, whose casino in Black Hawk operates three sports gambling kiosks. “I can only imagine if everything (in professional sports) goes as planned what October’s numbers will be.”

Colorado became the 14th state to legalize sports gambling in November 2019. Part of the deal was a 10.1 percent sin tax earmarked for the state’s water management plan. The tax revenue from the month of May came out to $96,537, according to the state’s figures. Two brick-and-mortal retail outlets are open, with four more debuting Wednesday, Hartman says.

The presence of sports gambling platforms soon will be a mainstay at a stadium near you. FanDuel advertised its sports betting options at Falcon Stadium at the NHL game in February. The Broncos were the first NFL team to partner with a sports betting platform and show three deals in the gambling market, including an in-stadium betting lounge courtesy BetMGM.

“I think (the early returns) really gives us a good picture of what the future is going to be like for Colorado sports betting,” Hartman says.

Hate to say it, but pingpong’s 15 minutes are almost up. So this one's for the Midwest transplants among us: is cornhole coming next?

“I keep watching it,” Hartman says. “But nobody’s come forward to ask for it.”

Betting on table tennis and cornhole.

Should I worry about you guys?

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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