As the rest of America has been finding out for the past two years, legal sports betting isn’t an experience reserved for Las Vegas anymore.
Even some Vegas-based brick-and-mortar companies aren’t reserving their operations for Nevada, either. And interestingly, Colorado is quickly proving to be an attractive option for those desert stalwarts looking to spread their wings.
Look no further than Circa Sports, which, as it continues work on its three-story Vegas sportsbook set for a late-October opening, launched its first activity outside of Nevada on July 1 with a mobile app through a licensing partnership with Century Casinos.
Then there’s Westgate Las Vegas, which is on track for a mobile launch before the end of the month, according to company executive vice president of operations Jay Kornegay. Moreover, the operator of the SuperBook and SuperContest fame will be opening a brick-and-mortar property at The Lodge Casino in the Rocky Mountains in Black Hawk, a project Kornegay said is on track for the end of August and the hopeful start of the NFL season.
Roughly half of U.S. states have either legalized sports wagering or have such allowances on the legislative doorstep. Ostensibly, Nevada-based properties could have opted for expansion at any point over the past 24 months. So why Colorado?
“In terms of our expansion, we’re targeting states with favorable rules and regulations,” said Jeff Benson, Circa Sports’ sportsbook operations manager. “Particularly, with Colorado, there are the abilities for remote registration and remote funding, which means we won’t initially have a brick-and-mortar location and can focus on the mobile product.”
Indeed, those accessibility factors have plenty of operators flooding to the Mountain Time Zone. A relatively friendly 10 percent tax rate on revenues related to sports betting doesn’t hurt matters, either.
The Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue listed 11 licensed operators for sports gambling as of July 5, with three added since the start of the month. And Suzanne Karrer, the communications manager for the division, told Gaming Today that 19 physical licenses and 25 Internet licenses (including those already operational) are in the works.
Safe to say, then, that competition will be fierce for a gaming community that produced an opening-month handle of $25.5 million in May without a whiff of major American sports action.
Kornegay stressed the geography and demographic trends of the state as another reason Westgate is keenly interested in Colorado for its first expansion. Colorado has grown by almost 15 percent in population since 2010 to a U.S. Census Bureau estimated total of 5.76 million in 2019. Add in that few of its surrounding states are venturing toward legalization and the travel destination the Rockies provides, and you have the makings for a sensible opportunity for Nevada operators that is also close to familiar headquarters.
“And on top of that, it’s a great state of sports fans,” said Kornegay, who grew up in the Denver area and graduated from Colorado State University. “They are true, loyal and passionate. That accounts for a great demographic for gaming.”
Kornegay said the 52,000- square-foot property at The Lodge, which is about 50 minutes from downtown Denver, will be among the larger sportsbooks in the casino-heavy areas of Black Hawk and Central City. The company will also host a Colorado version of its NFL SuperContest with a $500 fee, provided there is a football season to be contested this fall.
“It’ll be an enjoyable, exciting atmosphere there,” he said. “People will be able to enjoy the (Denver) Broncos and all the Colorado teams, but they can also watch all games in major activities from one central location in a comfortable setting.”
Benson said that Circa’s player-focused approach, which includes larger limits, cross-sport action and inventive parlay options, will translate to a mobile environment in a new state.
“We’re a sportsbook run by sports bettors, and we want to provide the best experience for our customers,” he said. “What that looks like is that we are going to take on all comers.
“Maybe it’s more of a Pinnacle-style model in the sense of low-hold, high-volume, but there’s a lot of experience in our risk room with (sportsbook directors and managers) Matt Metcalf and Chris Bennett, and that experience allows them to set odds and book games the way we want, and give bettors an opportunity to make sizable wagers.
“That might run contrary to how other operators might look at things, but for us, that’s what we think makes the most sense.”