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Colorado avoids rocky sports betting start

Of all the states that attempted to open their sports wagering floodgates this spring, Colorado may be the one best suited to hover above the tsunami of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Centennial State went live with sports betting on May 1, with all eligible registrants able to do so through online or mobile means from Day 1 — a contrast with many other states in the middle two U.S. time zones.

Perhaps more importantly, the later timing may prove fortuitous, as operators have adjusted to providing more international wagering options with American sports on hiatus and select major outfits such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship have kicked back into gear to instigate domestic action.

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Although immediate handle and revenue figures are not yet available, in-state sources are pleased with the rollout, which included four online providers attached to brick-and-mortar casinos.

And they’d have to be, considering all physical outlets have been closed since March 16 and that the Colorado casino industry provides $700 million in revenue annually and roughly $13.5 million weekly, according to Colorado Gaming Association data in a report from Denver-area TV station KDVR. (The CGA did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)

Approaching two months of the COVID-19 shutdown, that equates to more than $100 million sifting through operators’ collective fingers. So even table scraps are welcome.

“Watching the four initial internet operators launch their initial sportsbook starting May 1 represented the culmination of all the effort and work … put into setting up this newly regulated industry for the citizens of Colorado,” Colorado Division of Gaming director Dan Hartman said. “Even with the limited number of sporting events to bet on, the division, along with the four operators, feel like the first 10 days of legalized sports betting have been successful.“

Same goes for the operators themselves — casinos attached to BetMGM, BetRivers, DraftKings and FanDuel all went live on May 1. Suzi Karrer, the communications director for the enforcement division of the Colorado Department of Revenue, said Monday that the state anticipates two additional online providers to kick-start their operations this week.

The state’s early enthusiasm was boosted by Saturday’s spectator-less UFC 249 event in Jacksonville, Florida.

“This past weekend, UFC 249 blew away our expectations not only in Colorado but in every market we are in (which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Indiana),” BetRivers Chief Operating Officer Mattias Stetz said. “We don’t have previous Colorado data to compare this, but in our other markets, we received more betting action on this event than any regular season NFL game last season.”

Stetz said overall action on his company’s platforms eclipsed Conor McGregor’s January return to the UFC by 33 percent, and more than 50 percent of BetRivers’ Sunday handle was on future UFC events.

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The UFC has taken second to professional table tennis bets made on DraftKings Sportsbook, according to data provided by a company spokesperson. The Korean Baseball Organization and Belarus’ Premier League were third and fourth in both handle and betting volume.

Nationwide, FanDuel’s UFC 249 action was a third of its year-to-date handle for all mixed martial arts events, and it quadrupled the handle for the most recent pay-per-view event in March, according to the company’s publicity director, Kevin Hennessy.

Even in May, the NFL still remains at the forefront of Colorado bettors’ minds.

• Hennessy said 97 percent of the futures handle on the Denver Broncos’ postseason chances has been placed to make the playoffs at +162 odds.

• The hometown handle ran strong at DraftKings, with the Broncos, the Colorado Rockies and the Colorado Avalanche all carrying the largest futures betting volume in their respective sports.

• Stetz said the first BetRivers action on May 1 involved Denver native and five-time NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups placing a futures bet on newly-drafted Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to take NFL rookie-of-the-year honors.

With an operator-friendly 10 percent tax rate on revenue and inklings of a gradual return of U.S. sports, wagering interest in Colorado is ripe for a rapid rise.