DENVER — It’s a Sunday afternoon in early September, first quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders, and Brandon McManus and the Broncos are lined up for a field goal.
Empower Field at Mile High goes strangely quiet. Even those rowdies in the south stands are on their phones. It’s Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season — whenever that arrives in the age of COVID-19 — and sports gambling is legal in Colorado.
“You’re going to be at a Broncos game and you’ll have your smartphone and you’ll be able to play that game and play in-game wagers,” says Dan Hartman, the state's division of gaming director.
“So as the game’s going on, you’re going to be able to bet on that field goal: Is he going to make it? Is he not going to make it?”
Better days are ahead. For sports gamblers in Colorado, much better days.
Back in November, voters here passed Proposition DD, legalizing sports betting. While attention focuses on the novel coronavirus that’s paralyzed the world and its games, the big day snuck up on Colorado: "We’re still on track administratively for that May 1 launch,” Hartman told The Gazette on a recent Zoom call.
The absence of sports isn’t just about the games themselves. For some, like my friends who check the day’s point spreads before moving on to the weather forecast, it’s about the absence of sports gambling. As if passing a law through the “intersection of sin and revenue” wasn’t divisive enough, as state Sen. Bob Gardner once put it, gambling faces a bizarre dilemma: few sports on which to gamble.
“When you’re bringing up sports betting and you have a worldwide challenge like this and you have no sports — it’s really a surreal outlook,” Hartman says.
But the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL games will go on, eventually, and there are options in the meantime — albeit unusual options. The Chinese Professional Baseball League held its opening day Saturday. (How does the Rakuten Monkeys vs. Chinatrust Brothers scratch your itch?) Then there’s eSports (reportedly a $17 billion betting market, which blew my mind) or Belarus soccer (FC Slutsk vs. Vitebsk on Saturday) if you're up at 5 a.m. MT.
“I understand table tennis is really hot right now,” Hartman says.
No, you needn’t drive to Black Hawk or Cripple Creek to place a wager. (Colorado’s 33 casinos are closed, anyway.) But if the May 1 launch holds true you can download an app to throw $5 on a Russian table tennis match from your phone. Yes, for real.
Colorado has approved 24 licenses to sports gambling operators, Hartman says, with more likely to come at a meeting Thursday. That includes 19 of the state's 33 casinos, some of which eventually will open full-blown, on-site sportsbooks. Others will go the more humble route with betting kiosks inside the casino.
Expect to see an uptick in sports gambling advertising in the days leading up to the expected launch date. Perhaps you noticed the FanDuel ad at the Avalanche outdoor hockey game at the Air Force Academy?
Futures wagers will be in play from Day 1, Hartman says. The Broncos’ win total is set at 7.5, according to BetOnline.ag. The Nuggets own the seventh-best odds to win the NBA title, if one is awarded. The Avalanche have the fourth-best odds to skate away with the Stanley Cup. (Fingers crossed.) See, when sports gambling goes live, there will be plenty of ways to lose your money. Bet your money, I mean.
Colorado’s sports betting law prohibits wagering on politics or elections, although Donald Trump (minus-110) stands as a sizable favorite over Joe Biden (plus-120), per Bovada.
Next week a catalog of 30,000-40,000 possible wagers will go up for approval — from football to baseball to cricket to, yes, pingpong.
“There’s a couple sports on there that I just didn’t even know existed,” Hartman says. “And people bet on 'em.”
People like my friends. God bless 'em. No one’s counting the days to sports gambling’s return more than Doofy, whose go-to wager on the New England Patriots took a turn for Tampa.
“No gambling stinks. I plan to continue at the same level when sports are back," Doofy says. "I am concerned about my automatic Patriots bets without Tom (Brady).”
Others haven’t missed gambling: "I slept so soundly in March because I wasn’t sweating an Oregon-Arizona 'Over' at 1 a.m,” E-Hogs says.
"I just started gambling on the stock market," Bone says.
When the games finally return, they'll do so with a gambling element that Colorado’s never seen.
“You would’ve had playoff basketball. You would’ve had playoff hockey. You would’ve had the Rockies going,” Hartman says. “Those products are coming. This is just going to be a different way of launching.”