Robert Garner walked through the front doors of Blackhawk’s Saratoga Casino last summer and made Colorado sports betting history.
Garner, a Fort Collins firefighter, became the first person in the state to place an in-person wager at a retail sportsbook. On June 18, he bet $100 on the Broncos to win the Super Bowl.
“It didn’t pan out,” said Garner, a longtime Broncos season-ticket holder inducted into the Ford Hall of Fans at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “But it was 56-to-1 odds. So, I would have won $5,600.”
Colorado has eclipsed the one-year anniversary of legalized sports gambling with its retail casino sportsbooks in varying stages of operation. The Colorado Department of Revenue’s Division of Gaming lists 17 locations — between Blackhawk, Commerce City and Cripple Creek — that are licensed to provide fans a Las Vegas-style experience to wager on live games.
However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and its impact on the global sports landscape, only a handful of Colorado retail sportsbooks are currently operational. According to the state’s division of gaming, sports gamblers in Colorado wagered a total of $300,990,842 in March, with 98% of all wagers made online.
The growth of retail sportsbooks hinges on state health guidelines as many counties start to roll back COVID-19 restrictions. For now, there are at least three Blackhawk casinos — Ameristar, Golden Mardi Gras, and Saratoga — with completed sportsbooks that are ready for fans.
Saratoga opened first in Colorado due to its partnership with Betfred, a British sportsbook anchored in the tradition of retail locations. Saratoga’s intimate 1,400 square-foot sportsbook features a wall of TVs, multiple betting windows, and a lounge area with tables and plush chairs. Betfred COO Bryan Bennett described it as a “hometown sportsbook.”
“The great thing about having a smaller space is that it also allows us to show pay-per-view events, which a lot of the larger books can’t do because it’s so cost-prohibitive,” Bennett said. “We’re likely to show at least a monthly UFC fight going forward to give Colorado sports betting fans a place to go to watch the events they can’t watch anywhere else.”
Just down the street from Saratoga is the Barstool sportsbook at Ameristar Casino. The pandemic scrapped its initial plans for a July 1 completion date, sportsbook manager Kevin Dawn said, but construction resumed for a November grand opening.
It’s a much larger space with a capacity for 130 people without COVID restrictions. Ameristar currently allows for about 50 or 60 bettors.
“As you walk in our building from our parking garage, the very first thing you see when you look across is a giant 12-by-24-foot TV,” Dawn said. “We really wanted it to be the center of attention. To create that vibe: This is where I want to watch a game. I like to refer to it as the coolest living room in Colorado.
“We get a good flow. Obviously, mid-week it’s a little more difficult being up here in the mountains. But the weekend crowd, the football Sundays, the basketball and hockey Saturday night games, we do really well.”
Other local sportsbooks with retail locations are still in progress. Monarch Casino in Blackhawk operates its sportsbook with a sister location — Atlantis (Reno, NV) — and has multiple kiosks available to facilitate sports wagers. Monarch aims to open a completed retail sportsbook with Vegas-Esque amenities sometime around Labor Day weekend.
“We are building our sportsbook lounge area as we speak,” said Nick Epstein, Monarch’s sportsbook manager. “I’m certainly hoping it’s going to be done right when football starts, that’s my goal. Opening a sportsbook in a pandemic was challenging, but it worked out great because we could slowly build everything to where we are now.”
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