Colorado voters narrowly approve legalized sports betting

November 06, 2019 - 3:38 pm

DENVER (AP) — Voters have narrowly passed a ballot measure making Colorado the 19th state to legalize sports gambling, with the new tax revenue slated for water conservation projects.

The measure allows the parent companies of Colorado's 33 casinos to offer onsite and online betting on professional, collegiate, motor and Olympic sports starting in May.

The ballot question had little opposition, but the election results were so close that the outcome could only be determined Wednesday as the final votes were tallied.

Legal sports betting has grown since New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 allowing all 50 states to offer it. Colorado joins five other states that passed legal wagering this year: Illinois, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Sports gambling is also set to become legal in Maine next year, and it's allowed in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Colorado proposal calls for a 10% flat tax on net sports betting proceeds, which is estimated to total about $11 million in the next financial year that starts July 1. State lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year allowing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to use that money to award grants to help meet the state's water plan.

The plan, launched by former Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration, sets long-term goals to meet the needs of a growing population, agriculture, outdoor recreation and obligations to Southwestern states that rely on the Colorado River.

Channeling the sports betting tax revenue to the water plan won the support of environmentalists and farming groups, but the money generated is expected to fall well short of the water plan's estimated price tag of $100 million a year.

That's in line with the limited revenue seen by most other states that have already legalized sports wagering.

An Associated Press analysis shows that seven states that reported on sports betting revenue for the fiscal year that ended in June generated a total $74 million in state taxes — a drop in the bucket for state budgets.

Reasons varied, from slow rollouts to the unavailability in some places of mobile betting.

Colorado voters on Tuesday also rejected a separate ballot measure that asked if the state could keep revenue in those years when it has a surplus and allocate it to transportation and transit, K-12 schools and higher education programs and projects.

The state is now required to return that money to taxpayers under the state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires voters' approval of any new taxes or revenue retention measures.

Coloradans have voted repeatedly against most state tax increases since that constitutional amendment known as TABOR passed in 1992. Opponents of Tuesday's measure claimed they'd done so again — bucking the will of Democrats who contended CC wasn't a tax rate hike.

Democrats blame TABOR's revenue restrictions for chronic underinvestment in Colorado's schools, roads and universities. Republicans credit TABOR for keeping taxes low on the private sector, allowing it to fuel the state's economic growth.

Colorado's GOP leaders celebrated the result.

"Colorado voters made a bold statement to progressive leaders: "We already give you enough in taxes to pay our teachers and fix our roads," state GOP Rep. Shane Sandridge of conservative El Paso County said in a statement.

Many local municipalities have adopted measures similar to the one that failed in Tuesday's elections to fund their school districts and public safety. Voters in at least eight Colorado school districts authorized levies or bonds on Tuesday to fund their schools.

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