Considering the Odds of Legal Sports Betting Coming to Denver

Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a sports betting bill into law in May
Posted by Ryan Garcia on July 15, 2019

Considering the Odds of Legal Sports Betting Coming to Denver

Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a sports betting bill into law in May, but the implementation of the law is dependent upon one more critical thing happening next: Colorado voters must approve the bill in a referendum this November.

Typically, the governor’s signature on a piece of legislation is all that’s needed to turn it into the law of the land. That is still technically the case in Colorado, but this particular law requires a favorable public referendum before taking affect.

What this means is the future of sports betting in Denver (and across the state for that matter) is in the hands of the voters.

If a majority of voters approve the plan, Colorado will become the latest state to legalize sports betting. If voters reject the plan, the entire bill will be scrapped and it’s back to the drawing board for sports betting proponents.

Proposition DD will appear on the November 2019 ballot with the following text:

“Shall state taxes be increased by twenty-nine million dollars annually to fund state water projects and commitments and to pay for the regulation of sports betting through licensed casinos by authorizing a tax on sports betting of ten percent of net sports betting proceeds, and to impose the tax on persons licensed to conduct sports betting operations?”

What Are the Odds Proposition DD Passes?

Predicting the whims of voters is always a challenging task and this referendum is no exception. There are reasons to be optimistic Proposition DD will pass just as there are reasons not to get our hopes up too high.

We can estimate the odds of Proposition DD being approved by looking at recent polling data, considering the strength of supporters relative to the strength of opponents and by looking at the text of the measure itself.

At the risk of sounding like I’m just trying weasel my way out of a tough prediction, I’m going to have to rate this one 50-50 to pass. If ran a sportsbook that took odds on politics, I would price this one at even money, keep a little for the house and give it -110 on both sides.

Here’s why.

Negative: Confusing Wording

The wording of the ballot measure almost seems intentionally confusing, and there’s no question that will have an impact on the results. A certain percentage of people will only see the words “shall state taxes be increased” and automatically vote no right there without reading the rest.

How much this hurts the measure depends on how much effort supporters put into educating voters ahead of the November ballot. If casinos, free market enthusiasts and gamblers want to see this measure pass, they’ll need to spread the word that “YES” on Proposition DD is a vote for legal sports betting.

Positive: Some Polls Show Increasing Support for Sports Betting

The good news for Proposition DD is that recent polling data shows widespread support for legal sports betting at the national level. A recent survey conducted by GlobalWebIndex found two key results:

  • 75% of US adults aged 21+ support legalization
  • 90% of self-identified sports fans aged 21+ support legalization

A separate survey commissioned by the American Gaming Association found 79% of Americans support legalizing sports betting in their state and 63% of Americans support the Supreme Court decision last year to strike down the federal sports betting prohibition.

Overall, attitudes towards sports betting are trending positive. This portends well for Colorado’s odds of legalization.

Negative: A Recent Colorado Poll Found Weak Support

If we drill down to the state level, support for legalizing sports betting in Colorado appears weaker. A survey conducted by BettingUSA.com using Google Surveys found that just 29% of respondents would vote “YES” to Proposition DD if it were held today and that 31.5% would vote “NO.”

That does not bode well for sports betting in Colorado, but the good news is nearly 40% of respondents are still unsure. That is a significant contingent of voters who can still be persuaded one way or another if industry stakeholders mount a significant campaign to sway opinions before November.

Mixed: Opposition and Support Extend Beyond Mere Sports Betting

Any time a gambling question is scheduled to go before a public vote, anti-gambling groups are never far behind. Various coalitions that oppose sports betting on either moral grounds or out of concern for addiction tend to go into high gear at times like these. That’s to be expected and we’ll see plenty of that in Colorado.

However, we will also see opposition to the law that extends beyond the mere act of sports betting. The CO sports betting proposal is itself linked to a controversial issue because tax revenue generated by legal sportsbooks is earmarked to support Colorado’s Water Plan.

Some groups have already come out in opposition to the law simply because it supports the Water Plan. Their criticisms have nothing to do with sports betting; they don’t like the new law because they don’t like the Water Plan.

A Colorado River advocacy group came out strongly against the sports betting bill with a press release issued the day after Governor Polis signed the bill into law. Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado said this in a statement:

“This referendum is an extreme assault on climate justice. It’s the fossil fuel corporations that have caused the damage — they should be taxed to pay for climate damage, not the citizens of Colorado.”

Gambling expansions are always somewhat controversial on their own. But take that and add anything related to the environment and suddenly this issue has gotten a bit more complicated than usual.

Opposition to the Colorado sports betting plan will be stronger than what we we’ve seen in other states simply because it is linked to the controversial Water Plan project.

However, wherever there’s controversy, you’ll find two sides. The Water Plan also has its supporters and while they may not have a strong opinion on sports betting, they will be motivated to push back against negative media campaigns linking Proposition DD to bad water policy.

The Final Word

Ultimately, voters will get the final say on sports betting in Colorado this November. The outcome is difficult to predict at this early stage, but we’ll start to get a better look closer to election day.

As the various groups campaign for and against Proposition DD, the odds of legal sports betting in Colorado will become clearer. My personal belief is that the “YES” vote should edge out the “NO” vote come November. National polls show overwhelming support for legalization, and even negative ad campaigns will spread awareness that Proposition DD is related to sports betting.

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