Two Tribes In Colorado Want In On Online Sports Betting

Written By J.R. Duren on January 16, 2023
Ute tribes address House legislatures to include them in Colorado online sports betting

Colorado online sports betting is a booming business, and the two federally recognized tribes in the state are left out of it. But, that may be about to change.

This past week, the chairmen of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes traveled to Denver to address Colorado’s House members. The chairmen addressed the importance of tribal economic development.

In particular, they asked the legislature to bring Ute tribes into online sports betting. Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart said:

“We all claim these lands as our homeland, but let us look at the past history and what has been taken away. All those lost opportunities we shall address, and we shall address them today and look forward to future opportunities.”

Ute tribes were left out when sports betting went legal

In 2019, Colorado approved Proposition DD, a piece of legislation that legalized online sports betting and a 10% tax on the revenue it generated. The proposition also gave Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek voters the right to vote to approve in-person sports betting.

However, the proposition left out any mention of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes. In one sense, this is relatively normal. Tribes are sovereign, operating under their own jurisdiction.

In some cases, like Florida, a tribe can operate full-fledged casino gaming. Even though the state doesn’t allow non-tribal (“commercial”) casinos.

And, in cases where states legalize sports betting, tribes often participate in mobile sports betting. For example, in Kansas, tribes can participate in online sports betting if they update their compacts (agreements) with the state.

Sovereignty aside, the Ute tribes’ leaders pointed out that the tribes were not a part of the conversation about online sports betting.

What would an inclusive process have looked like? State leaders could have contacted the tribes to set up a series of discussions about updating the tribes’ compacts with the state.

Changes could’ve been made to existing compacts that would’ve allowed sports betting. The changes would’ve given the tribe enough time to find a sports betting operator and meet regulatory requirements before online sports betting launched.

More importantly, the tribes would have had access to online sports betting revenue. In Colorado, online betting makes up more than 99% of the revenue generated from sports betting.

“Time is money,” Heart told legislators. “And since this has been passed in 2019, we’ve lost that much money with sports betting.”

How will adding tribes to online sports betting impact the Utes?

Heart and Southern Ute Chairman Melvin Baker pointed out that including the tribes in Colorado online sports betting would provide a critical revenue source to help fund tribal services.

For example, the tribes are dealing with water issues, Heart said. Revenue from Colorado online sports betting could help improve those issues.

Other services the tribes offer include human, health, community, and financial assistance. For example, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe offers its members the following health services:

  • Community health programs
  • Substance abuse programs
  • WIC
  • Diabetes program
  • Public safety

Overall, revenue from online sports betting could help improve the quality of life of the tribes’ members.

Is it possible for the Ute tribes to offer online sports betting?

In short, yes. Tribal leaders would have to negotiate with state lawmakers to update their compacts to include online sports betting.

If online sports betting was illegal in Colorado, then an updated compact would only allow mobile sports betting on tribal land. This would limit the tribes’ revenue stream.

However, because online sports betting is legal in Colorado, the tribes could offer online sports betting statewide.

If the tribes and the state can reach an agreement on online sports betting, the tribes would have their work cut out for them.

There are 26 legal sports betting apps in Colorado, including heavyweights like DraftKings and FanDuel. Because the market is so saturated, the tribe will be playing catch-up to gain traction with bettors.

If they can, then there’s big money at stake. In November, online sports betting generated more than $540 million in handle (wagers placed). Mobile sports betting operators took home more than $35 million in pre-tax revenue.

Photo by AP Photo/Rick Bowmer/PlayUSA
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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