Colorado has always loved its sports teams, but since May of 2020, the Broncos, Nuggets, Avalanche and Rockies may have some company in the hearts of locals.
In the roughly two-and-a-half years since Colorado introduced legalized sports betting, the industry has exploded, as local bettors have wagered more than $8 billion.
“I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect it in the first 29 months,” said Dan Hartman, director of Colorado’s Division of Gaming.
Data analyzed by Denver7 shows that 98.6% of the money bet on sports is taking place online through a variety of apps. The rest is taking place in sportsbooks located in Colorado’s three gambling towns — Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. The state has 15 licensed retail sportsbooks and 24 licensed online operators.
Betting on the local teams is extremely popular, according to Kristin Mackey, vice president of marketing for SuperBook Sports. SuperBook has a retail, or in-person, sportsbook in the Lodge Casino in Black Hawk, as well as an online app.
Bets on the home team can be both a good thing and a bad thing for the sportsbooks, depending on how the teams fare. The Broncos’ opening game loss to the Seattle Seahawks was a boom for the books as roughly 88% of the money locally was bet on the Broncos.
“When they didn’t win at the Seahawks, that was a huge win for us,” Mackey said.
However, when the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup earlier this year, the books took a bit of a hit.
“When the Avs were winning it, it was awesome for the city,” Mackey said. “It was so great for morale and for sports fans in Colorado, but, man, did it cost us a ton of money.”
Inside the numbers
Overall, Coloradans are doing better at sportsbooks compared to other states with legalized sports gambling.
Out of all the money bet so far, the sportsbooks are only holding on to 5.9% of that money, according to figures analyzed by SuperBook. This means just over 94% of the money wagered is being paid back out to the players. That percentage is second in the nation to Iowa. In several other states, such as Michigan, Connecticut and Indiana, the books are retaining between 7% and 8%.
SuperBook executive vice president Jay Kornegay, one of the nation’s leading oddsmakers, attributes the bettors’ success to a pool of experienced players.
“They are fairly conservative with their plays, so I think that we have our fair share of sharks there,” he said.
In Colorado, the Department of Revenue publishes monthly reports on the amount of money wagered and, among other things, the top 10 sports bet on during that period.
Data analyzed and compiled by Denver7 shows that three of the top 10 sports wagered on are professional basketball, the NFL and baseball. Data is available through July 2022. So far, more than $2 billion has been wagered on pro basketball.
A surprise entry
During Colorado’s first months of legal sports betting, the COVID-19 pandemic forced sports to shut down. However, Coloradans still got their bets in by wagering on table tennis that was taking place overseas.
Once more mainstream sports resumed, bettors continued to look to table tennis, and the sport ranks as the ninth most popular sport to bet on in Colorado. More than $200 million has been bet since May 2020.
“I know Colorado likes to bet, but boy, that’s an interesting thing to know,” said Darin Elwell, a sports bettor who was wagering on football at SuperBook in the Lodge Casino in September.
Some states have banned betting on table tennis due to questions about the integrity of some of the matches. Colorado’s Division of Gaming has banned wagers on table tennis in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, and betting numbers have dropped since that decision came down.
The penchant to bet on more niche sports, such as table tennis, and its availability nearly 24 hours per day could be the sign of an addiction issue, according to Keith Whyte, executive director of the Center for Problem Gambling.
“Somebody’s probably putting in a bet right now on the speed of a ping pong player’s serve, or how many times they are going to hit the net in the end,” Whyte said.
Whyte was also critical of the state’s attention to problem gambling, saying it does not have a comprehensive system to deal with addiction.
So far, the state has paid out $130,000 of its tax revenue from sports betting to problem gaming. The state legislature has increased that number for 2023 to $2.5 million through grants, but Whyte said it is not enough.
Whyte wants the state to study the number of problem gamblers, saying there is no data showing the number of gambling addicts in Colorado. However, he did say national research shows that risk for gambling problems increased 30% between 2018 and 2021.
“Gambling addiction is preventable and treatable, and there’s enough money in this system to do it. It’s just not being used adequately and that’s the tragedy of it,” he said.
Outside of the $130,000 for problem gambling through the Office of Behavioral Health, state tax revenue on sports betting is mainly earmarked for the Colorado Water Fund. Also, 6% of the revenue is supposed to go to the Hold Harmless Fund for businesses that are damaged by sports betting.
A spokesperson for the Division of Gaming said that no businesses have come forward to claim that money.
Since May 2021, the state has collected just under $22 million in taxes through July 2022. The state has paid around $19 million to fund Colorado's Water Plan.