By noon on Friday, Dan Hartman sensed reality settling in.
Legalized sports betting in Colorado was two hours old. Four operators had live online sportsbooks. By that time, he recalled with a laugh, Hartman felt relief. The much-anticipated launch had occurred. What’s more, it went as smoothly as regulators, operators and the public could have wanted.
That trend carried through the weekend. Few, if any, hiccups arose. Hartman’s cell phone remained relatively quiet. All indications were Colorado sports betting was humming.
Optimism already abounded for the future of regulated wagering in the state. But for Hartman, the director of the Colorado Division of Gaming, as well as for bookmakers and bettors, that seemingly flawless opening weekend instilled even more confidence.
“We as a division were excited about it,” Hartman said of the launch. “I think we were excited by what we saw, and I think the operators were the same way. I think they were excited it came off without any issues. Everybody thought it was a success.”
That said, Hartman assured, while May 1 is now in the rearview mirror, there are plenty more “May 1’s” ahead.
No sports, no problem for Colorado sports betting
Certainly from a revenue standpoint, business could have been better with major sports alive and well. Obviously that did not happen, as the coronavirus pandemic has temporarily canceled all major sports.
From an execution perspective, though, the industry got off the ground with ideal grace.
“We really didn’t see any or hear any (missteps or errors) that would have given us any issues or that would have given us any thought that there would have been,” Hartman recalled. Conceding that it appeared strange he wasn’t receiving any calls, he added: “I wasn’t really looking at my phone, but I was looking at it more than normal on a weekend.”
While casinos remain closed because of the pandemic, four operators introduced online sportsbooks the morning of May 1:
Two others originally anticipated joining that crowd, Hartman noted. However, they decided to put off their debuts to “iron out” technical aspects. As it stands, those two — Smarkets and Monarch Casino — expect to launch this week.
With their feet now wet, future operator and market integrations should also go smoothly, Hartman said. Funny how time and experience can affect one’s outlook, as Hartman’s recollection detailed.
“A month and a half ago when everyone started going home and we were starting virtual commission meetings and all the other things we had to do that we just don’t normally do, it was a bit stressful and concerning. I think I went back and forth on whether we were going to open or not open or on time.
“As I got more confident that everybody was using the technology and everything was working and the commission was meeting special to get licenses done, all of those things … played into lowering our curve, really, to get to that confidence level. We were ready to launch and ready to go.”
Limited betting offerings allow time to correct any issues
A few weeks prior to the introduction of Colorado sports betting, Hartman agreed that while fewer active sports limits operators and the state financially, it provides regulators and bookmakers an opportunity to avoid and even quickly correct any issues that arise.
After opening weekend, Hartman believes that is still the case.
“I think if we would have had more operators, we would have had more (markets and issues),” Hartman said. “I think everybody was curious, and a lot of people got on an app and signed up and looked at the different available options they had. I think they were able to do that smoothly and kind of ease into it a little bit. I think the operators did, too.
“Had we had a bunch of (operators) come on at the same time, we may have been putting out a few fires here and there. But I think the way it came up, everybody was able to just manage their own issues. It was actually pretty good for all of us.”
With seemingly a more controlled environment, Colorado sports betting went off with little — if any — stress.
“After Friday, about noon, it kind of really just leveled out, and it was OK,” Hartman related, adding that all systems appeared to be running smoothly. “I think the stress level went down. If you don’t have some of that (stress) going into launch, you probably don’t have a pulse. I’ve done these before, and this one was far less stressful because we knew what was coming in, we knew the operators that were coming in, and everybody wanted to make it a success and not to worry about overlooking things. They’re all pros and were ready to go.”
Plenty more sportsbook launches ahead in Colorado
No doubt, Hartman said, it seems strange that the long-awaited May 1 launch of legal sports betting has passed.
“But,” he emphasized, “We’ve got a lot of May 1’s coming up with 25 operators.”
More bookmakers will enter the fold in short order, starting this week with Smarkets and Monarch. Then, sports will begin to return, including UFC, NASCAR and the PGA Tour in the near future, reportedly followed potentially by MLB.
Soon, hopefully, Colorado casinos will reopen to the public, thus allowing retail sportsbooks to make their introductions to the Centennial State.
Hartman said as properties prepare to and even after they reopen, regulators will go in and perform testing before the public can take part.
“But it’ll kind of be seamless,” Hartman said, “with whenever their opening is ready to go.”
In a way, retail sportsbooks might benefit from this shutdown, Hartman said.
“It might even work to their advantage a little bit, because they won’t be trying to open it too soon when it’s half-done. Hopefully that’s where they get, and you’ll see the book open in all its glory instead of halfway.”
How Colorado sports betting looked
As for how the actual wagering in Colorado went, it should come as no shock that the majority of bettors played hometown favorites.
One FanDuel market asked if the Denver Broncos would make the NFL playoffs; 97% of wagers believe that to be the case. The Broncos stood as the most bet-on team at DraftKings, followed by the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. The majority of bets also went on newly drafted Denver WR Jerry Jeudy to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year. And the most popular team wagered on to win the World Series? The Colorado Rockies.
Similarly, BetRivers saw heavy action on the Broncos to win the AFC West as well as the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl. As for short-term future events, BetRivers COO Mattias Stetz expects UFC 249 in Jacksonville on May 9 “to be the most popular event next weekend by a wide margin.”
What about completed events?
At BetRivers, table tennis dominated, according to Stetz, as it accounted for just over 50% of the handle. One reason, he suggested, is that BetRivers live-streams matches, allowing for customers to watch along with and wager on them as they occur.
The largest bet placed at the site was on a Chinese Professional Baseball League game, which featured a $1,310 wager on the under 14.5 runs. The total came in at 12, paying the customer nearly $2,400.
As for FanDuel, one customer put down $882 on the Dallas Cowboys to win the Super Bowl, which would pay at just over $15,000. The biggest payout cashed in at $1,400, the result of a $500 wager on a Belarusian Premier League soccer match.
Opening weekend instilled extra optimism not only for regulators, but also for operators.
“We saw tremendous engagement after only a few days of sports betting in Colorado,” according to a spokesperson from DraftKings, noting all the local flavor among bets placed. “These popular futures, plus our current offers available in Colorado (table tennis, international soccer, etc.) are positive signs as we look forward to the return of major US sports leagues.”