Colorado Sports Betting Bill Can be Passed by Legislature without Constitutional Amendment

Posted on: August 3, 2018, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: August 3, 2018, 03:44h.

If Colorado wants to join the list of states offering legalized sports betting, they won’t need a constitutional amendment to do so. That’s the opinion of Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who said on Thursday that the state legislature would be within their rights to pass a sports betting bill.

Colorado sports betting
Workers prepare the new sportsbook at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Colorado is among many other states where legalized sports betting is being considered. (Image: Beau Rivage Resort & Casino)

That’s an opinion that surprised some in the state, as other legal experts had opined that Colorado’s constitution would need to be altered before sports betting could be considered.

Sports Betting Not a Lottery, Coffman Says

Coffman released her opinion following an analysis that considered several aspects of Colorado gaming 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. “Whether or not sports gaming should be legalized in our state will ultimately be up to the legislature to determine.”

According to analysis from the attorney general’s office, sports gambling is defined as an illegal activity under Title 18 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. That would have to be changed by lawmakers before anyone could legally place a bet within the state’s borders.

That portion of Coffman’s opinion is not at all controversial. However, the questions over the constitutionality of sports betting were considered a bit more complicated.

First, there’s the fact that lotteries are restricted in the state’s constitution. Coffman’s analysis found that sports betting did not fit into the definition of a lottery, however.

“Whether a game is a lottery turns on the role chance plays in the outcome,” Coffman wrote. “Wagering on a sporting even falls outside this definition.”

Then there’s the 1992 constitutional amendment that allowed some communities to host casinos that offered “limiting gaming,” a set of games that only included blackjack, poker, and slot machines. In her statement, Coffman opined that this amendment wouldn’t apply to any effort to allow sports betting in the state.

“Because commercial sports betting, as contemplated in this format opinion, is not ‘limited gaming,’ this constitutional provision is not relevant,” she wrote.

Gaming Association Pushes Back on AG Opinion

The attorney general’s opinion was quickly challenged by the Colorado Gaming Association (CGA), which moved to downplay the importance of Coffman’s statement.

“The Colorado courts only give ‘respectful consideration’ to attorney general opinions and, many times, find that an AG’s opinion is incorrect,” a CGA statement read. “The weight of judicial authority throughout the country is that sports betting is, in fact, a ‘lottery.’ Attorney General Coffman’s conclusion that horse and dog racing are ‘not materially different’ than professional and collegiate sports betting is factually and, we believe, legally incorrect.”

Legislators in favor of sports betting say that the AG’s opinion is only the first small step towards potentially bringing wagering to the state.

“I think this is the opening of a much lengthier conversation,” State Representative Alec Garnett (D-Denver) told Colorado Public Radio. “We may still need to have this conversation with voters at the ballot.”