GamblingHot SheetLegislature

Attorney general says state Constitution doesn’t bar sports gambling, but …

Author: Marianne Goodland - August 2, 2018 - Updated: August 2, 2018

sports gamblingA man watches a baseball game in the sports book at the South Point hotel-casino, May 14, 2018, in Las Vegas. The Supreme Court on Monday gave its go-ahead for states to allow gambling on sports across the nation, striking down a federal law that barred betting on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Anyone want to make book on the next big fight at the General Assembly in 2019? A good bet would be on sports gambling.

Last May the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 1992 federal law that barred most states, including Colorado, from authorizing sports betting. After the ruling, the state Department of Revenue sought an opinion from the attorney general on whether the state Constitution also bars sports gambling.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman Thursday ruled that while the state Constitution doesn’t prohibit it, sports gambling is barred under state law. Hence, it would be up to the Colorado General Assembly to change the law.

“After conducting a full legal analysis, I have determined that commercial sports betting is not subject to state constitutional restrictions, but is prohibited gambling under Colorado’s current criminal code,” Coffman said in a statement Thursday.

Coffman addressed the biggest question tied to the issue: how a voter-approved 1992 constitutional amendment that allowed “limited gaming” in three Colorado towns ties into the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Coffman wrote that limited gaming “is a narrow, defined term that includes only blackjack, poker and
slot machines. Because commercial sports betting, as contemplated in this Formal Opinion, is not ‘limited gaming,’ this constitutional provision is not relevant.”

Coffman added that she believes lawmakers “will receive substantial input from their constituents and other stakeholders regarding the potential societal consequences or benefits that will need to be weighed carefully to ensure the appropriate outcome for Colorado.”

Ya think?

Lawmakers are already chomping at the bit, so to speak, to run legislation on the issue. That includes Democratic Rep. Alec Garnett of Denver and Republican Rep. Cole Wist of Centennial.

Peggi O’Keefe, executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association, which represents casinos, told Colorado Politics shortly after the court decision that the group was “pleased … because it allows Colorado to determine whether sports gambling would be allowed within the state borders.”

But O’Keefe’s group could also be the biggest opponent of any measure that would allow widespread sports gambling that takes place outside of the three towns — Blackhawk, Central City and Cripple Creek — that already allow it.

And they’ve got the money to fight it. Just a few years ago, a ballot measure to allow betting on horse races, with profits directed to K-12 education, failed on a margin of 70 to 30 percent. It turned out to be the most expensive ballot measure in state history. Supporters of the 2014 measure known as Amendment 68  spent $19.7 million. But opponents, including the gaming association and its member casinos, spent $19.96 million.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.