Colorado Shows Progress In Reaching May Sports Betting Goal Despite Coronavirus Concerns

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Colorado moved closer Thursday to launching legalized sports betting in time for a May 1 target despite overarching concerns from the spread of the coronavirus.

The Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission approved more than a dozen sports betting licenses Thursday at a meeting complicated by the continued spread of COVID-19. While the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Division Of Gaming remains open for business, the office is closed to the public until mid-April. With several attendees unable to take part in person, Thursday’s meeting was held via video conference.

During the brief meeting, the commission approved 16 licenses including the Temporary Internet Sports Betting Operator Licenses of Fox Bet, FanDuel Sportsbook, and PointsBet. Every license was approved unanimously by the commission.

The developments could allay some of the concerns of the state’s gambling industry, which has been hit hard by the spread of the virus. Gov. Jared Polis ordered the temporary closure of the state’s casinos March 16 as part of an initiative to shut down the majority of non-essential businesses across the state.

Despite the widespread closures, the gaming division continues to move forward in reviewing licensing considerations in order to reach the May 1 mandate, according to division director Dan Hartman. Hartman indicated the division will monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the gaming industry before the commission’s next meeting in April.

The LGCC, which approved seven First Master Licenses at a meeting last month, has plans to award as many as 33 licenses to retail and online sportsbooks statewide.

Mobile betting

As the virus compels millions of Americans to remain inside their homes, mobile sports betting could emerge as a clear winner once professional sports resumes.

PointsBet, which is opening its Western hub in Downtown Denver, also had a temporary operator license approved Thursday on top of the internet license. The three operators, PointsBet, Fox Bet and FanDuel, are expected to derive most of their sports gambling revenue from mobile betting.

Also on Thursday, the commission approved the First Master Licenses of three casino properties owned by Twin River Worldwide Holdings — the Mardi Gras Casino, Golden Gulch Casino, and Golden Gate Casino in Black Hawk.

Mobile betting was thrust into the spotlight earlier this week when civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton urged Polis and Speaker of the House KC Becker to delay the rollout of online sports gambling. Citing the effects of the virus, Sharpton expressed trepidation that minority hiring among Colorado gaming properties could suffer as operators tilt toward mobile.

Sharpton directed his criticism toward Twin River owner Soohyung Kim, the founder, chief investment officer and managing partner of Standard General, L.P. a New York-based hedge fund. In January, Twin River completed the purchase of the three casinos for $51 million.

“Out-of-state hedge funds with long records of mass firings and shady dealings have come into the state to capitalize on mobile sports betting and based on their track record middle-class workers and minorities will be the first to be negatively impacted,” Sharpton wrote in the letter to the governor and other Colorado political leaders.

In addition, the commission approved the First Master Licenses of three properties owned by FHR Colorado LLC — Bronco Billy’s Casino, Christmas Casino & Inn by Bronco Billy’s and Billy’s Casino, all located in Cripple Creek. The commission approved the Temporary Vendor Major Licenses of three companies — BetWorks (US) LLC, Stadium Technology Group LLC and Sports Information Services Limited. It also approved the First Vendor Minor Licensing of three others — OBeP Payments LLC, PopOdds Inc., and Fan Leads Inc.

Layoff concerns

During a public comment period, the commission heard from Peggi O’Keefe, executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association, an organization that has represented member casinos across the state since 1994. O’Keefe asked the commission if the outbreak will push back the May 1 launch considering that thousands of Colorado gaming employees are temporarily out of work.

“It’s been heartbreaking for them, I know they’re incredibly concerned about their employees and customers,” O’Keefe said of member casinos.

Public health concerns in Denver have led to the loss of 1,400 positions among six restaurant groups, The Denver Post reported.

The commission lauded stakeholders for their cooperation during the challenging period. Kristen Blessman, chair of the commission, expressed frustration at how the virus has disrupted business in her other position as CEO of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, a Denver-based nonprofit.

Shortly after the meeting concluded, the Denver Nuggets announced that a member of the organization tested positive Thursday for the virus.

“These are unprecedented times,” Blessman told attendees of the meeting. “I don’t know what else to say, but stay safe.”

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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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