Colorado became the 19th state to allow sports betting after voters narrowly approved Proposition DD thanks to strong support from people in and around Denver.
The ballot question was bouncing between winning and losing as results were reported on Election Night — at one brief point it was locked in a 50-50 tie — but by Wednesday morning it had a growing lead of roughly 1 percentage point and some 17,000 votes as the final returns trickled in. By mid-afternoon, The Associated Press said the measure had passed.
Most of Colorado’s 64 counties rejected the measure, but there was enough support in more populous areas like Denver, Arapahoe, Adams, Jefferson and Douglas counties to push the question into the “yes” column.
Pueblo and La Plata counties notably rejected the measure, and the question did not receive support in almost any of Colorado’s historically Republican areas despite its broad bipartisan backing.
That’s despite the fact that opposition to the measure was mostly unorganized and not well funded compared to a multimillion-dollar warchest wielded by its backers.
The measure will tax sports wagers at 10% of casinos’ net proceeds, the revenue from which — conservatively estimated at between $6 million to $15 million annually in the first three years, but potentially as much as $29 million a year — will be split a few ways.
The bulk of what’s raised will go toward Colorado’s water management plan — which has up to $40 billion in needs — while the rest will be shared by the Division of Gaming, local governments and efforts to address gambling addiction
The election results were much closer than expected. Proponents admitted Tuesday that the ballot measure’s language likely confused some voters, and thousands of people simply left the question blank.
Sports betting also left voters on both sides of the aisle with something not to like: A tax increase that could have turned off Republicans and concerns about the impacts of gambling on the state’s vulnerable populations that potentially turned off some Democrats.
“In terms of the ballot language, it was important that we communicated from the outset who was paying the tax and what it was going to fund,” said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for the group supporting Prop DD.
He added that having a bipartisan group of backers also helped prevent support from eroding.
Starting in May, people 21 and older will be able to legally wager on everything from professional sports and esports to collegiate games and the Olympics. The 33 casinos in Colorado will manage the betting either at their locations in Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk, or online and through mobile devices.
Hubbard said the big takeaway from the results is that “we’ve put a down payment on Colorado’s water plan and those conversations can begin to move forward in a real way.”
The states that already allow sports betting are: New Jersey, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Mississippi, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee. Washington, D.C., has also legalized sports betting.
Legislatures in other states, including North Dakota, Arizona, Texas and Washington, have considered whether to allow gambling on sports but ultimately rejected it.