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With only a month left before Colorado wraps up their current legislative session, lawmakers are racing against the clock to assemble a sports betting bill they believe voters will support.
House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a Democrat from Denver, has maintained to local media that he will introduce a bill this session.
“But that could change tomorrow,” he quipped. “It’s like weather in Colorado, it can change at any moment.”
Garnett’s joke to the assembled media underlines the difficulty Colorado lawmakers face when getting a measure to voters.
Putting a bill on the docket for debate is one thing, but getting a finalized measure to voters might not be possible within 30 days.
If there is a window of light for getting a bill created and approved, it is that the legislation is being drawn up behind the closed doors of legislators’ offices.
“We’ve been working the last couple of months with stakeholders trying to build what a legal sports gambling framework would look like in Colorado,” Garnett said.
Garnett also stated that current plans would allow Coloradans to place bets online to stay current with today’s betting industry.
“Nobody does this in person anymore. This is all done on your phone,” Garnett added.
Yes, legislators in the state could legally bypass voters and approve sports gambling on their own, but there are potential stumbling blocks along the way.
The first hurdle to jump would be adjusting the criminal code in Colorado that establishes sports betting as an illegal activity.
The state’s Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, has already issued an opinion that the state’s legal restrictions on gambling do not apply directly to sports betting.
AG Coffman believes that lawmakers will only need to alter Title 18 in the Colorado Revised Statutes, that says sports gambling is an illegal activity inside the state.
But even with Coffman’s blessing, legislators are hesitant to leapfrog voters.
“I think it’s important to go back to the voters and make sure it’s something that they want,” Cole Wist, a Republican Representative from Centennial said.
“I think there are reasons legally why we don’t have to, but we have to be respectful of that history.”
Historically, state voters have been resistant to approve an expansion of gambling.
Colorado did not allow gambling via casinos in the state until 1991 and a measure to expand gambling to racetracks in 2014 failed in spectacular fashion with 70% of voters opposed.
However, despite the history, sports betting may be popular enough to change the hearts and minds of Colorado voters.
With the clock winding down, it will be challenging to get sports betting to voters in November.
The smart money might be on the bet that legislators forego this legislative session and make sports betting a priority for 2020 when voter turnout will be high due to it being a presidential election year.
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