As director of the Colorado Division of Gaming, Dan Hartman cannot take advantage of the legalized Colorado sports betting market.
He’s simply not allowed to, and Hartman shared this sentiment with the concession of a man in the middle of a juice cleanse who just received a gift card to an upscale steakhouse.
It’s not that he really wants to wager, to be clear. Perhaps it’s more the feeling of being a part of something great.
Fortunately for Hartman, he is very much involved in what is starting to become the standard for legalized wagering in America: regulated sports betting in Colorado.
Along with his team, Hartman has helped sports betting go from legalization in November 2019 to permanent regulations released in early 2020 to a seamless launch May 1, and to an industry featuring 10 online operators and two retail sportsbooks.
Even in a world devoid of major sports due to the coronavirus pandemic, regulated wagering in Colorado has flourished. As a result, the expectation for the industry has been raised.
Surely Hartman, regulators, operators and bettors are up for that challenge.
Colorado sports betting enters third month
It’s a wild thing to consider, Hartman agreed.
Less than a year ago, the spotlight shined on voters, as the fate of legalized wagering rested in their hands. Now, Colorado has entered its third month of online sports betting. The first two brick-and-mortars have even cropped up. More operators remain in the on-deck circle, awaiting their turn to enter the game.
Colorado stuck to its May 1 target for launch, even as COVID-19 shut down states and countries worldwide. And it does not seem that long ago when Hartman was answering questions regarding that timeline.
“Time has flown by,” he said. “Obviously the conditions we’re working under add to that. Most weeks, I don’t know which day it is, and then all of a sudden it’s a holiday. … While we’ve started sports betting, we have additional things coming online, and we have additional things happening every day.
“Usually every week we have some other request for a new bet or a new something. They seem to go very fast. Sports betting, while it’s consumed a lot of our time and a lot of my time, we’ve got a lot of other stuff we’re doing, and trying to get back and recircle the wagons on that stuff is taking up time, too.”
10 online and two retail sportsbooks
Just over two months later, that list of online sportsbooks has swelled to 10. To boot, both Betfred and DraftKings introduced the state’s first retail sportsbooks.
This growth might be considered decent enough any other year. But during a pandemic? Incredible.
“Certainly COVID came in and threw a curveball for all of us,” Charles LaBoy, VP of compliance for Roar Digital, said during the 2020 SBC Digital North America. “And I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a period of uncertainty as to whether or not we collectively would be able to make that transition. It wasn’t only just operators; it was casino partners and regulators [who] really had to switch how we do business.”
As if the digital arm of MGM hadn’t expressed enough optimism for Colorado’s future, Roar Digital sure does now. As LaBoy put it:
“We certainly continue to have high aspirations for the market.”
How has Colorado sports betting thrived?
Hartman has always credited his team. For good reason, of course.
So, too, did Colorado benefit (for lack of a better term) from the shutdown. With casinos unfortunately closed, retail sportsbooks could not open. The internet, however, had no such restrictions.
Regulators and operators focused their energies on launching online products. Scattered throughout these first few months, more mobile sportsbooks began trickling out. Then casinos started to reopen. And the first physical operations could follow suit.
“I think the fact that it’s spread out more has helped us,” Hartman said. “But I also think it really helped us that we took the time, even though it was a condensed period of time, to put [in place] our permanent rules that we opened up with. We’re not trying to go back and trying to backfill what we missed. We got them done, and they were done by February. They were in place, and everybody knew what they were going to be.
“I think that’s really helped us a lot, and I think it’s helped the operators know that they weren’t working under the wrong assumption when they opened up and had something amiss. They knew it and they had a couple months to plan it.”
During the conference, LaBoy praised state regulators for setting target dates and sticking to them. The goals and plans were clear and clearly communicated, a practice he highlighted as one other states looking to legalize sports betting should adopt.
Colorado now has a new standard for future of sports betting
When the pandemic forced cancellations and suspensions of nearly every sport, including every major sport, the expectation became that state-sanctioned sports betting would take a hit.
Yet it did not scare off Colorado. Regulators and operators stuck with their original May 1 target. It thrived there, attracting $25.6 million in wagers during that first month.
As confident and optimistic as Hartman was leading up to that date, even he had to agree how amazing that feat appears.
“It far exceeds my expectations, because I didn’t really have any,” Hartman said. “I figured four operators (on May 1), they had a timetable, they wanted to meet it, they were ready to go. But I think my expectations of what was really going to happen were pretty conservative, just because there really wasn’t much out there and [we] didn’t know how well that was going to be jumped on or received. I think the $25.5 million far exceeds what I thought we were [going to do].”
The director added a clause, however, that it’s not just about exceeding expectations. It’s also about what can be accomplished down the road.
“I think that we now can go forward with expectations of how big this market can be,” Hartman said. “So it kind of shifted [from] ‘We may do a slow climb’ to ‘This is the market that everyone thought it was going to be.’ I think that’s going to prove out as we get back to normal, as big sports come on, as other things happen. I think we’re going to see the expectations of the market come out, and I think it’s going to be very positive.”