When will legal sports betting get underway in Colorado? That’s a question consumers and industry analysts are increasingly asking as the state’s proposed launch date for Colorado online sports betting, May 1, moves closer.

The broader climate for gambling in Colorado

Colorado’s gambling industry was effectively brought to a halt on March 16, 2020, when state officials required all of Colorado’s casinos to close their doors in an effort to stall the advance of the coronavirus.

The 30-day order won’t technically overlap with the proposed May 1 start date for legal sports betting in Colorado. But there’s some chance that the order could be extended. Even if it isn’t extended, the order will reverberate through Colorado’s casino industry well beyond the 30-day window. Casino executives will be forced to prioritize revitalization plans. Regulators may be swamped with new concerns. And it’s unclear when consumers might return to their normal gambling patterns at Colorado’s casinos.

Live sportsbooks may face unique challenges opening on time

Plans for live sportsbooks at Colorado’s casinos are certainly threatened by the coronavirus-driven closures. The closures may have changed the economic decision-making around opening a live sportsbook. It’s also possible that the uncertainty resulting from the closures could have delayed or scuttled construction plans.

On the other hand, casino executives may view sportsbooks as a valuable weapon in the battle to bring players back to Colorado’s gaming floors. If prioritized, sportsbooks could be launched in relatively short order, as they don’t need to be especially grand or complex spaces. What we may well see is a wave of rapidly-launched temporary live sportsbooks that are gradually upgraded over time.   

Online sports betting in Colorado has the best chance of timely launch

Colorado’s online sports betting sites may have an easier time of it, as much of the work of launching an online sportsbook can be done remotely. Many of the sportsbooks coming to Colorado — such as DraftKings and FanDuel — have extensive experience launching and operating online sportsbooks, meaning launching in Colorado represents relatively familiar terrain that can be navigated with an existing map.

The outlook is brighter on the regulatory front as well. Most of the work of vetting and approving online sportsbooks can be done remotely. That means regulators can make substantial progress on approving various aspects of online sports betting operations even if regulators are working from home.

That combination of reduced friction on both the commercial and regulatory side strongly suggests that online sports betting is a favorite to launch ahead of retail sportsbooks in Colorado.  

What will people be able to bet on?

Legal sports betting is far less enticing to consumers if there’s nothing to bet on. So the real question around the launch of legal Colorado sports betting is less about when the casinos will offer it, and more about when there will be a resumption of the global sports calendar.

While the media has made much of the exotic alternatives being offered at sportsbooks to offset the loss of top-tier sports like baseball and basketball, the reality is that such alternatives can’t sustain the sports betting industry.

As things currently stand, the general expectation among industry observers is that sports should resume in advance of the NFL season. If that ends up being the case, Colorado sports bettors may have a few weeks, or even months, with lots of sports betting apps to choose from, but very little sports to actually bet on.