Gambling In Colorado: Laws, Live Casinos and Online Gambling Sites
- Casino Gambling: Legal(in specified areas)
- Poker: Not Legal
- Horse Racing Betting: Legal
- Dog Racing Betting: Legal(OTB only)
- Lottery: Legal
- Daily Fantasy Sports: Not Specified
- Charitable Gaming: Legal
- Social Gambling: Legal
- Online Gambling: Not Specified
The Rocky Mountain State has a strong libertarian political streak that leads to a“hands-off” approach to vice. Colorado was the first American state to legalize the recreational use ofmarijuana and the first to reap the massive financial benefits of that action.
This is a beautiful state, taking up most of the southern Rocky Mountains. Seated atthe continental divide, the state is an interesting blend of the traditional and the contemporary. Gamblers inColorado enjoy a generally-relaxed policing atmosphere, with legal casino gambling, social gambling, charitygames, lotteries, and other markets available in a regulated form.
On this page we cover the legal status of gambling in this state, as well as discusswhether or not it is actually legal to gamble online in Colorado.
Before we dig deep into Colorado gambling law and state gaming tradition, let’s startby setting the stage. The numbers below should give you some context for the rest of the information we share.You’ll notice, right off the bat, that Colorado is a gaming powerhouse, and that the state earns a huge chunk oftheir total revenue from gaming taxes.
- Age Requirements
- Approximate Annual Gambling Revenue
- $745 million
- Approximate Annual Gambling Taxes
- $100 million
- Number of Commercial Casinos
- Number of Rancinos
- Number of Tribal Casinos
- Casino Regulatory Body
- Colorado Division of Gaming
- Lottery National Rankings
Clearly, gaming is big business in Colorado. The state’s other big revenue-generating venture, the sale ofretail and medical marijuana, is making headlines worldwide for generating $75 million for the state. Meanwhile,reliable old casino gambling is outpacing even the state’s firestorm of weed sales figures. With Colorado gaminglaw still very much in flux, we think the comparison between the newly-launched retail marijuana market and therelatively-new casino gambling industry in the state is apt. It’s tough to put your finger on exactly what typesof gaming are legal and illegal in the state. The next section is dedicated entirely to a long look at Coloradogaming statutes.
The Legal Status of Gambling in Colorado
The legal status of different types of gambling in Colorado depends heavily on where in the state you’relocated. Colorado has relaxed gambling laws, in part because the state defers to county and municipal law whenit comes to gaming regulation.
The easiest way to understand a state’s policies toward gambling is to start with their definition of theterm. According to Section 18-10-101 of the Colorado criminal code, “Gambling” refers to the act of
That’s a laborious and thorough definition of gambling that would seem to preclude just about any form ofbetting.
But the law continues with some exceptions. Here they are, as taken directly from the state law books:
- “Bona fide contests of skill, speed, strength, or endurance in which awards are made only to entrants or the owners of entries.”
- This protects athletic competitions and some carnival and amusement games. Online poker players and sports bettors ought to perk their ears up at the word “skill” in the definition, as it might be used to establish that certain online games are excepted from state gambling law.
- “Bona fide business transactions which are valid under the law of contracts.”
- This means that any commercial gambling interest allowed to exist by the state government is protected from prosecution. It’s a gentler form of the exception in many state law books that allows any form of gambling that the state says is legal to exist.
- “Other acts or transactions now or hereafter expressly authorized by law.”
- This line basically grants the state the right to legalize and regulate any gambling game that they want. It’s a catch-all that any student of state gambling law will recognize as a common tactic of centralized governments.
- “Any game, wager, or transaction which is incidental to a bona fide social relationship, is participated in by natural persons only, and in which no person is participating, directly or indirectly, in professional gambling.”
- This line is responsible for Colorado’s famous social gambling allowance. Believe it or not, this is the only line referring to private or in-home gaming. It’s elegant, and it gives people in Colorado a lot of leeway when it comes to private poker games or other contests.
Some forms of gambling are legal regardless of where you are in the state. The Colorado Lottery operates afew state lottery games and regulates Colorado resident’s participation in larger lottery systems. The ColoradoDivision of Racing regulates all live and OTB wagers on horse racing events in the state. The Colorado Secretaryof State’s Office licenses and regulates bingo, charitable raffles, and other charity games.
Social gambling is particularly popular in the state, thanks in large part to relaxed laws about the practice. ByColorado law, a private game is legal as long as there is a legitimate social relationship between the playersand there’s no profit motive for the host. By law, players must know each other outside of the context ofgambling activity. Do we think that law enforcement is going around to private games establishing a legitimatesocial relationship? No – but it’s best to stay safe and keep your private game legal in the eyes of theAttorney General.
The state’s willingness to defer to local law has led to the creation of three casino gambling areas in threeColorado cities – Cripple Creek, Black Hawk, and Central City. Municipal governments in these areas have chosento host limited casino gambling. No game can allow wagers of more than $100, and certain card and dice games(namely blackjack and craps) aren’t allowed.
You may be thinking that Colorado law is extremely liberal. Up to this point, it is. Where the state’s gaming lawgets strict is when you bring up the subject of online gambling.
Is Online Gambling Legal in Colorado?
According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, online gambling is illegal. “Internet gambling is illegalunder state and federal laws,” says the Department of Revenue’s website. “Colorado law prohibits thetransmission or reception of gambling information by any means.”
Let’s take a look at this. For “gambling” to occur, by Colorado statute, there must be three elementspresent.
- Consideration – this refers to payment.
- Chance – this refers to luck.
- Reward – this refers to prizes won during gambling.
All you need to do to make a gambling activity legal in Colorado is to eliminate one of these factors.Unfortunately, by that loose definition, any traditional form of online wagering could be considered an illegalbet.
The Department of Revenue also leans heavily on the UIGEA bill and the Interstate Wire Act in theirexplanation of why online gambling is illegal. We think this is a dubious practice – deferring to federallaw in a state where local laws are sacrosanct.
Here’s a problem with the Department of Revenue’s statements on the matter – there is no express prohibitionagainst online gambling anywhere in Colorado’s statutes or penal code. Furthermore, no Colorado citizen orvisitor to the state has ever been charged with a crime related to online gambling.
What would happen to a person if they were somehow charged with and convicted of a crime for online gambling?A first-offense will almost certainly be a minor misdemeanor, similar to a speeding ticket. The fine is setbetween $50 and $100. A second offense is also a misdemeanor, but a more serious one, with a heftier fine.It’s only on a third or further offense that a felony conviction is mentioned, and fines shoot up as high as$25,000. It seems the state is far more concerned with systematic and problematic gambling than a singleincident of illegal wagering.
Colorado Poker Tournaments
We field lots of questions about the legality of poker tournaments, Vegas nights, and other organized formsof gambling outside the usual scope of casino, charity, and social gaming law. In many ways, Colorado law is agift to those of us that examine gaming law for a living. It is often concise, clearly-written, and thorough.But in regards to things like private poker tournaments and church- or charity-sponsored casino game nights, thelaw is pretty obtuse.
We have to depend on statements from Colorado’s Attorney General’s office and the Colorado Gaming ControlCommission and trust their judgement on this issue. Generally speaking, these two offices work closely todeal with things like poker tournaments and gaming that’s outside the scope of what the law considers“charitable.”
We discovered, in researching the legality of a private poker tournament, that games played in a person’sprivate home can be fully legal provided they aren’t identifiable as “gambling” under Colorado law. We’vealready established what has to happen in order for an activity to be described and regulated as gambling inColorado – there must be a wager, luck, and the promise of a cash prize. If any one part of this equation isabsent, then you’re not gambling.
The best way to manipulate this loophole and ensure your game is legal, regardless of what kind of game itis? Don’t charge any kind of fee at the door, or any kind of fee whatsoever. That means no “suggesteddonations” either. It also means you can’t charge a buy-in, accept any tips, or set any kind of “minimumcharge system” for entry. This covers the old “two drink minimum” loophole. You can hand out prizes andconduct any non-device gambling you want as long as you follow this rule.
If you have to charge a fee, you can’t legally hand out any prizes at all based on the results of the game ora player’s skill or luck. You can conduct a legal raffle, door prize giveaway, or drawing. But for yourprivate event to be legal, these prizes have to be truly randomly-awarded. They can’t be tied to payment orany actual success in the event. The state takes this seriously – the Colorado Secretary of State handlesall legal permitting for charity bingo, raffle, and other gambling events, and it’s big business for thestate. As far as Colorado sees things, you’re stealing from their coffers.
Once you’ve established a game without an entry fee or other charge, you’re playing a legal game, and youdon’t have to worry about intervention by law enforcement.
Where Can I Gamble in Colorado?
Online Gambling Options in Colorado
We already discussed the legal status of online gambling in Colorado at length. The situation is murky atbest. As far as we can tell, so long as you’re placing real-money bets at websites based offshore, you’re notbreaking the law. Don’t forget that it’d be difficult for a law enforcement body to track you down and chargeyou with a crime, considering there’s no existing language in the Colorado penal code that addresses gamblingover the Internet. If you’re genuinely concerned about the legal status of your online gambling while within theborders of Colorado, consult a legal professional with experience in gambling law in the state.
History of Colorado Gambling Laws
Further Reading On Colorado Gambling Law
Here you can find literally anything you need to know about the regulation and enforcement sideof CO gaming law, including links to regulations and state-wide news in the industry. Of particularuse to us during the production of this article was the section on Industry Statistics. If all youneed are some quick facts, this is the resource for you.
For those of us that just need a quick fact-check, this page contains all the salient detailsthat Colorado residents need to know about legal gaming in the state. This is the closest thing to asocial media infographic on the subject that we could find. Contains links to details on tribalgaming and other subjects of interest to CO gamblers.
The topic of “gambling” gets its own massive subsection on this page. The questions asked aresurprisingly applicable to the everyday concerns of gamblers. That’s a rarity in state governmentwebsites. The answers here aren’t without their flaws, but they do represent the most concise legalopinion on the subject, and it’s easy to read and understand.
Colorado Gambling FAQ
What type of ID should I bring with me to a casino in Colorado?
There’s no law on the books that says you have to bring any specific piece of identification. However,you’ll need to prove that you’re 21 years old in order to enter a casino and gamble. That generally means youhave to have a state ID of some sort, with a photo, and this ID has to be valid. If you win a jackpot of $1,200or more in Colorado, you’ll need both a valid ID and your Social Security card in order to claim the prize. Thisis for federal tax purposes. Take note that in Colorado, acceptable forms of ID include (but are not limitedto):
- A Colorado driver’s license or valid identification card
- A U.S. passport.
- A state or federal employee identification card, with a photograph
- A pilot’s license
- A military identification card, with a photograph
- A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other governmentdocument that shows both your name and address
- A certified documentation of naturalization
- An identification card issued by a federally-recognized tribal government
How do I know if my private poker game is legal in Colorado?
The law says a private game involving wagers is legal if “… only natural persons participate and noparticipant is involved in professional gambling.” Let’s unpack that a little. The state’s main concern hereseems to be to stand against professional or organized gambling, as a simple way to ensure that a private gameis truly private and social. When they say “only natural person,” they literally mean that only real humanbeings can participate, and not any business or institution. That’s written in there to prevent the creation ofany kind of house bank to wager against. The same goes for the restriction against professional gamblers. If thestate allowed house-banked games attended by known professional gamblers, they’d basically be allowing thecreation of private casinos. That’s not the spirit of the law the state wrote in the penal code, which is merelyto protect casual poker games and other private wagers.
What are the payout percentages for Colorado’s slot machines?
By state law, all slot machines (commercial or tribal) have to be set to pay out a theoretical percentage ofbetween 80% and 100%. According to a quick browse through Colorado casino websites, the average machine pays outaround 90%. Like in other states, the more the machine costs, the higher its theoretical payout percentage. Takenote that it’s actually illegal for an operator to host a game that’s set to pay out more than 100% over thelife of the machine. This rule isn’t common in the US, though we’ve seen several European nations implementingit, and we think it might be an anti-cheating tactic or a law designed to prevent fraudulent programming ingeneral.
How is Colorado’s $100m annual gaming tax revenue spent?
All revenues generated from gaming are placed into what the state calls its Limited Gaming Fund. Before anymoney is distributed from that fund, all the expenses of the state’s Gaming Commission and Division of Gaminghave to be paid in full, and two additional months of operating cost have to be placed in escrow. Once that’sdone, money is handed out according to a specific formula:
- 50%, or about $50 million, goes to a state fund, which pays for stuff like the Colorado Travel & TourismPromotion Fund, the Colorado Office of Film, and the Innovative Higher Education Research Fund.
- 28%, or about $28 million, goes to the Colorado State Historical Fund.
- 12%, or about $12 million, goes directly to the governments of Gilpin and Teller Counties, in directproportion to the amount of gaming revenue earned from them. They can spend this money however theywant.
- 10%, or about $10 million, goes to the city governments of Black Hawk, Central, and Cripple Creek, alsoin direct proportion to their respective gaming revenues. They can spend this money however they seefit.
Is it true that it is illegal to play credits that remain in a slot machine inColorado?
After you’ve written your tenth or eleventh exhaustive guide to US gambling law, you start to have animpressive collection of kooky facts. Between old-fashioned laws that lawmakers have never bothered to take offthe books to modern laws that fly in the face of reason US gaming law at the state level is a smorgasbord ofoutdated, outmoded, and ridiculous legislation. Colorado’s claim to fame is the fact that the state’s penal codemakes it explicitly illegal to claim and play on credits that remain on a machine or on a ticket that you findin the casino. The act of claiming someone else’s credits is a fraudulent act, according to Colorado gaming law,in fact it’s a class one misdemeanor. That means you can actually be arrested if you’re somehow caught claimingthe credits of the player before you. Here’s a quote to back up this weird and wacky addition to CO gamblingstatutes: “If an award is abandoned in the tray or on the credit meter of the slot machine, the award becomesnull and void and the property of the casino unless the person who originally won the award makes a claim forthe award.” Technically, this quote comes from Colorado Gambling Regulations, and not the state constitution,but it’s still a clear statement of fact. The state consider claiming credits a serious crime of opportunity,and even if the casino decides not to call the cops, you could be legitimately banned from the property. There’sno affirmative defense in the state’s penal code, so a conviction of this type is likely to stick.
Colorado is a state on the rise. The state’s population has swelled nearly 6percent since 2010. The state is becoming more of a political touchstone – the marijuana legalizationmovement that had its first major success here has since spread to a dozen other states.
Could Colorado make major changes to its gambling laws in the near-future? At this point, we have tothink that anything is possible. After all, ten years ago no one thought that any US state would everlegalize marijuana. But even if nothing changes in Colorado’s gaming law landscape, it’s still among themost liberal state in the country in terms of enforcement and regulation. In that sense, it’s already anAmerican gambler’s paradise.