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More than $6.5 million was wagered on table tennis matches in Colorado in May, accounting for about a quarter of the state’s first month of sports betting.

Gamblers shelled out a total of $25.6 million in sports bets in May as they contended with a shutdown of professional American sports because of the coronavirus crisis. 

Betting on mixed martial arts, soccer and baseball each accounted for about 6% of all sports betting in the state in May, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Revenue on Monday. Darts accounted for more than $130,000 in wagering.

State officials were celebrating the first month of sports betting as a success, even if the wagering was dramatically lower than what was expected. They squarely blamed the coronavirus crisis for the lower-than-expected wagering. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic, the closures of Colorado casinos and cessation of professional sporting events were challenges the Division of Gaming could not anticipate when initially planning for the launch of legalized sports betting in Colorado,”  Dan Hartman, director of the Division of Gaming, said in a written statement. “… The total amount wagered in May of $25.6 million is an encouraging predictor of the potential for the Colorado sports betting landscape. It shows a bright future for the Colorado sports betting market.”

Colorado House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat who was one of the main backers of legalizing sports betting, said he was pleased with the level of popularity in May.

“Colorado loves sports,” he said, “even if it’s international ping pong.”

When Colorado lawmakers last year decided to ask voters to approve sports betting in November, they were betting big that it would generate millions of dollars each year for the state’s multibillion-dollar water plan to manage population growth and drought. Legislative fiscal analysts believed there could be north of $1 billion wagered annually in Colorado.

Then estimates from the Division of Gaming showed that it would likely take more than a full year of sports betting for any money to actually go to the Colorado Water Plan after it repaid $1.73 million in startup costs to the legislature.

The pandemic has thrown even more uncertainty into the mix. 

The first month of sports betting generated $96,537.55, which is a drop in the bucket of the outstanding amount owed to the legislature. 

The Division of Gaming says it hasn’t updated its sports betting revenue projections amid the pandemic.  

“We can’t really say anything until we get some sense of normalcy,” said Suzanne Karrer, a spokeswoman. “… We thought at this time we’d be watching baseball in a stadium.”

But Karrer said the sports betting industry is still growing in Colorado and that with the return of professional sports as early as this month there’s reason to be optimistic. 

“Let’s see what it looks like when football comes on board,” Karrer said.

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She pointed out that in May there were only six online companies offering sports betting. That number has since risen to nine and there are three in-person locations where people can wager on sports. 

The state has approved 25 online sport betting operators to offer wagering in the state as well as 19 in-person operators. 

Karrer said Hartman is estimating that the Division of Gaming will have repaid the legislature the $1.73 million in startup costs by July 2021, allowing tax revenue to finally start flowing to the water plan sometime next summer. That’s assuming that sports betting rampus up in Colorado. 

Still, it appears Colorado won’t come anywhere close to the $1 billion-plus in wagering that was predicted by the legislature’s analysts.

Colorado voters narrowly approved Proposition DD to allow sports betting in November. People must be 21 years old or above to participate and can wager on everything from professional sports and esports to collegiate games and the Olympics.  

The measure established a 10% tax on casinos’ net sports betting proceeds, or the amount casinos keep after deducting payouts to winners and after they pay a federal excise tax. 

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...