CO Regulators Approve More Sports Betting Licenses Ahead Of May 1 Live Date

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Colorado is nearing the finish line.

On Thursday, the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission (LGCC) issued more than a dozen sports betting licenses completing its latest round of licensing action ahead of the state’s May 1 target to launch legalized sports gambling. Over the last month, the Commission has overcome considerable hurdles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting a series of meetings virtually while state offices and casinos remain closed.

At Thursday’s meeting, the Commission approved six Master Sports Betting Licenses, six Temporary Sports Betting Operator Licenses and six Temporary Internet Sports Betting Operator Licenses, including the temporary operator and internet operator licenses for Churchill Downs Interactive Gaming.

Despite the overarching challenges presented by the casino shutdowns, the Division of Gaming indicated Thursday that the state is still on track for the May 1 launch.

Sports betting catalog

The Commission discussed a motion to approve an extensive catalog of sports wagers that will be listed on the Division’s website. The catalog is replete with hundreds of bet types, whetting the appetite of bettors interested in wagering on practically every sport contested around the globe.

Colorado will offer an expansive menu of wagers on the Olympics, ranging from bets on which color medal a country will win the most of, the athlete to record the fastest time in a preliminary heat and whether an individual will set a world record. While the Division approved a host of wagers from mainstream pro sports leagues, as expected, it also approved a litany of bet types on a number of unconventional sports.

Niche sports included in the catalog:

  • Badminton
  • Beach Volleyball
  • Biathlon
  • Cricket
  • Floorball/Bandy
  • Field Hockey
  • Handball
  • Pesapallo
  • Snooker
  • Water Polo

As it pertains to college sports, the catalog contains proposed bet types on baseball, basketball, football, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and volleyball, among others. Colorado statutory guidelines restrict sportsbooks from accepting wagers on proposition bets featuring individual collegiate athletes. As such, a sportsbook in Colorado is not allowed to offer bets on the number of catches former Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. will record against UCLA or the number of assists ex-Buffalo swingman Tyler Bey will dish out versus Arizona (had both remained in school next season).

Commissioner Richard Nathan recommended adding an amendment to the catalog that would remove all bets on the NCAA sports on a temporary basis. Nathan expressed concern that certain prop bets may run afoul of the mandate. He pointed to one bet in the catalog that allowed bettors to wager on the total number of corner kicks in an NCAA collegiate soccer match. Straight win bets will not be affected.

“We should take a look at corner kicks and decide whether it is a proposition bet,” Nathan said at the meeting. “We’re not pulling anything off the table, it’s just the ones that relate to collegiate activities that are specifically forbidden.”

The amended measure passed on Thursday. The Commission will review the wagers on college sports in the coming weeks, before it decides on granting the Director the authority to include the bet types in the catalog.

License fees set

One of the most notable developments to arise out of Thursday’s meeting centered around a motion that will allow the state to set operator fees for new sports betting licensees for the state’s 2019-20 budget year. When the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Division of Gaming proposed a set of sports betting regulations, the Division sought to have an operator fee for individual licensees set by the beginning of May.

When the Division devised a method for allocating the operator fees among Colorado sportsbooks, it used an assumption of a nationwide trend on mobile sports betting as its standard. The Division assumed that roughly 85% of legal sports betting across the country occurs through online/mobile platforms, with the remaining 15% at brick-and-mortar casinos.

For Fiscal Year 2020, the Division is set to receive an appropriation of $1.74 million from the state’s general fund, director Dan Hartman said at Thursday’s meeting. When subtracting revenues, excluding taxes and fees of $152,427, sportsbook operators will be required to pay an aggregate fee of $1.59 million, according to Hartman. Under the 85/15 split, internet sportsbook operators will pay the bulk of the fees, amounting to roughly $1.35 million, with retail operators on the hook for the remaining $237,988.

As of April 15, the Commission had approved sports betting licenses for 25 internet sports betting operators and 19 retail sports betting operators, Hartman added. Based on the 85/15 breakdown, the Division set operator fees at $54,000 per internet operator and $12,500 per retail sportsbook. The motion passed unanimously.

Mile High SuperContest

Earlier this week, SuperBook USA LLC inked a partnership with The Lodge Casino in Black Hawk under a deal that will give the SuperBook access to the Colorado market. The partnership marks the first time the SuperBook will expand outside of Nevada.

The SuperBook was among a list of several prominent companies issued temporary operator and internet operator licenses by the LGCC Thursday. For SuperBook Executive VP of Operations Jay Kornegay, Colorado is close to his heart. Kornegay is a native of Colorado and has forged a number of close relationships with members of the gaming community across the state. Kornegay is intrigued by Colorado’s remote registration policy that allows customers to open a sports betting account from anywhere in the state. In-person registration is required in Nevada.

“With the addition of remote sign-ups that really was the icing on the cake for us,” Kornegay told COBets.

The company has plans to bring its famed NFL pick’em SuperContest to Colorado, pending regulatory approval. The contest will have the same format as the Nevada incarnation, with five weekly picks against the spread and payouts of quarterly prizes to pool winners after every four games. Last season, the SuperBook awarded cash prizes to the Top 100 finishers, including a record $1.49 million to the 2019 winner. The Nevada entry fee is $1,500.For the upcoming NFL season, the company will likely reduce the fee for the Colorado SuperContest to $500 per entry, Kornegay said.

“The reason behind that is we just thought with the introduction of a contest and sports betting that a lower entry fee would be more comfortable for them,” he added.

The company is still mulling whether to name the competition The Mile High SuperContest or The SuperContest Colorado, Kornegay said. While the SuperBook has considered several scenarios for the timing of its Colorado launch, Kornegay emphasized that the company would like to begin operations as soon as possible.

Before the SuperBook makes its Colorado debut, Kornegay needs to see strong indications that the global sports freeze is about to end, he told COBets. Kornegay noted that at least one of three major U.S. professional sports leagues — the NBA, the NHL or MLB — would need to resume play before the company goes live in Colorado. Alternatively, the SuperBook will give strong consideration to launching in Colorado in the fall if there are signs that the NFL will start the 2020 regular season on time.

Next steps

Beyond the SuperBook, the Commission issued Temporary Internet Operator Licenses to five other companies Thursday: Churchill Downs, Betfred Sports, Internet Sports International (ISI), Ltd., Digital Gaming Corporation USA and WSI US, LLC. Churchill Downs, one of the nation’s largest horse racing wagering companies, will enter the Colorado market under its BetAmerica brand, which was purchased by TwinSpires in April 2017.

Last September, Churchill Downs reached an agreement with Full House Resorts to offer online and retail sports betting under BetAmerica at Bronco Billy’s Casino and Hotel in Cripple Creek. Colorado law precludes the state’s thoroughbred racetracks from opening an on-premise, physical sportsbook on the grounds of the track.

In terms of master licensing, the Commission approved the applications of companies representing six casinos: Wildwood Casino at Cripple Creek, The Famous Bonanza Casino, Easy Street Casino, Grand Z Casino, Johnny Z Casino and Z Casino Black Hawk. Internet Sports International will run sports betting operations at three Colorado casinos: Wildwood, Colorado Grande and Johnny Nolon’s.

The Commission has now issued Master Licenses to 30 of the state’s 33 licensed casinos. Hartman noted that while some operators have signaled an intention to launch operations by May 1, others prefer to wait until the global sports freeze ends.

The Commission may hold an emergency licensing meeting before May 1, but did not formally schedule one on Thursday.

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Matt is a veteran writer with a specific focus on the emerging sports gambling market. During Matt's two decade career in journalism, he has written for the New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, Reuters and CBSSports.com among others. In his spare time, Matt is an avid reader, a weekend tennis player and a frequent embarrassment to the sport of running.

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