Colorado’s regulatory outlook on most offerings for sports betting also applies to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing.
If operators want to offer any Olympic sport, from hockey to curling to biathlon, they are free to do so. It fits with the overall permissive nature of Colorado’s sports betting regulation. There is a short list of exceptions (like exhibition boxing matches or NCAA player props), but the state largely lets its sports betting operators offer what they like.
“If you take the approach we have, what you really get into is you’re allowing the operator to manage their own risk on those things,” said Dan Hartman, the director of the Colorado Division of Gaming. “We’re saying you can take them. We believe the Olympic Games have lots of integrity and lots of backup [if integrity issues arise].”
Issues still might come up
But that doesn’t mean the Olympics, from a sports betting perspective, won’t be without complications.
The issue looming largest is the effect of COVID-19 on the event, which is scheduled to run from Feb. 4-20. With athletes entering China from around the world, with the potential for very different COVID situations in each participating country, the prospect of setting markets in sports where competitors might be ruled out at any point could be perilous for sportsbooks and frustrating for bettors.
“It’ll be up to the operators as to which [events] they want to take and the limits, as the information, almost up to the minute, about who is going to be in those competitions, is going to be difficult,” Hartman said.
There is also the issue of results changing after the events are completed, if an athlete were to test positive for a banned substance. Hartman made the comparison to horse racing, where, although U.S. customers can’t recoup losses from parimutuel pools after the fact if a horse tests positive, there have been examples of European bookmakers paying out both first- and second-place finishers as winners in those cases.
“They have that luxury, and everybody does, to say, ‘It’s worth it to us, to make sure we’re not putting a bad taste in people’s mouths,’” Hartman said. “[Operators] can’t deal with that on day one, but we can make it right afterwards.”
What kind of action is expected?
Colorado’s revenue reports are broken down by sport, not by event, so it’s difficult to determine exactly how much handle the Tokyo Summer Olympics generated in the state, but Hartman estimated that it was around $20 million.
His expectation for the winter event in Beijing is not as high, for a variety of reasons. Time zone will be a challenge again, as it was in Japan, for a U.S. audience that likes to wager on live events. The effect of COVID will also have an influence, and the premier team-sport event, men’s hockey, will not feature NHL players, which is usually a significant international draw. Handle will likely also be impacted by recreational or entertainment limits on the lower-profile events.
“But what you see with the Olympics is — just like they’re not going to take a $50,000 bet on cornhole. That’s just not going to happen. You’ll see the same thing with this,” Hartman said. “You might see bigger [limits] when the Canadian and U.S. Olympic teams play in hockey, if that’s the way it happens. That’s an easier one to level both sides for an operator. When it gets down to snowboarding or speed skating or something like that, maybe a different story.”