Real Money Online Gambling in Colorado

Colorado has a very rich history as a gambling locale, and once hosted legendary saloons that several famous gamblers frequented. Just like the gold rush, saloon gambling in Colorado came and went, where the appetite for gambling in Colorado dulled as it did elsewhere in the United States.

After relenting enough to allow things like a state lottery and betting on horses, saloon gambling finally came back in the early 1990s, in an effort to help three dying old mining towns economically. They just recently got the right to offer sports betting, both at their small casinos and online, and although these casinos do require a short drive for many, they offer both the opportunity to gamble and a taste of the Old West.

The frontier that remains is the regulating of real money online poker and casino sites, although this only appears on the frontier if you think that Colorado needs to offer the gambling before you can play it there. That turns out to be a myth, as we will explain.

Gambling History in Colorado

Colorado Online Casinos and SlotsThe early settlers in Colorado were far from a Puritan lot, even though the American frontier certainly had its share of people who viewed gambling as undesirable. This was a time though when gambling was seen in a much more popular light than today, with gambling seen as a legitimate profession where gamblers were even looked up to by many.

When Colorado was first settled, there were no saloons as the area wasn’t built up enough to sustain such commercial enterprises, but almost immediately, crude versions of them started popping up, makeshift structures with dirt floors, with bars consisting of boards sitting on top of whiskey barrels, and a rickety table with a few chairs that people used to gamble on.

The great popularity of gambling in Colorado and on the western frontier in general is believed to have been fueled by the higher appetite for gambling among settlers in general. Heading out west was in itself a real gamble, as not everyone made it alive, and faced considerable uncertainty when they arrived. These aren’t really the sort that has much against taking gambles.

As the settlements in Arizona grew, larger saloons were built and as the saloon business grew more, as more elaborate and even lavish ones popped up. These saloons held court in towns, and part of the regular proceedings was gambling.

Leadville alone, at the time when it was the largest city in Colorado, had 150 “resorts” among a population of 10,000, and drinking and gambling was the official pastime. This is gambling on a massive scale per capita, a scale we likely will never see again, with such a high percentage of people frequenting these establishments.

Leadville was at this time the capital of gambling in the west, at a time where their casinos were frequented by legendary figures such as Doc Holliday, who once shot a man in Leadville over a $5 poker pot. With your opponents at the table openly carrying guns while playing poker drunk, with some of them professional gunfighters, this was anything from today’s poker rooms.

Times changed though, and as a process of the growth on the Colorado frontier, and as the influx of people moved towards the less adventurous when it was no longer such an adventure to move here, these winds of change blew away gambling like tumbleweeds, as it became against the law.

Gambling between persons, like the sort that occurred at saloons in the frontier days, was never against the law and is explicitly listed as allowable under Colorado statutes. What got tossed is public gambling, for the explicit reason of seeking to protect players from third parties making a profit from it.

This is actually an odder preference than it may appear to be, because of how ubiquitous agency relationships are in our society, where only a small percentage of transactions, between parties directly, do not involve third party commerce. Provided that the parties provide informed consent, it is problematic for the state to seek to judge the preferability of financial arrangements by imposing their own calculus and pre-empting people from obtaining value.

The strong stance against public gambling in the preamble of Colorado’s gambling statutes ended up wearing away eventually in practice, even though it still remains unaltered. A public lottery is somehow not the sort of public gambling that the law is opposed to, nor is pari-mutuel wagering it seems, nor is allowing for 3 Colorado cities to return to their frontier gambling roots in order to help their economies.

We at least need to applaud Colorado for this more pragmatic turn, where they perhaps compared the benefits of adopting these changes versus the costs to society, where some may feel offended by others gambling openly. The peanut gallery does not have any standing here though, so there are no legitimate harms that even need to be offset.

Colorado has taken things a step further in 2020 by now allowing both land-based and online sports betting. They still cling too much to their old paternalistic views when it comes to gambling, but the iron grip they once had has lessened very nicely.

Colorado Gambling Laws

As badly written as gambling laws are in some states, Colorado’s really stands out for its effectiveness in achieving the desired objective of disallowing gambling in all of its forms, leaving whatever is allowed up to the specific direction of the legislature.

Whether or not we agree that states should ever prohibit gambling, or that in doing so they are depriving us of our constitutionally guaranteed right to have our liberty denied without just cause, the goal in interpreting the law does not examine how just the reasons behind a law may be, but rather to seek to understand the law and seek to apply it accordingly.

If states want to hold legal control over gambling regulation, the ideal communication would be to simply ban all gambling, and that’s exactly what Colorado law does. It is against the law in Colorado to bet on anything contingent on chance in whole or in part, which includes casino games and poker but does not include sports betting. That gets specifically mentioned though, as well as the odd provision that you can’t bet on things that you have no control over, which just serves as padding as all bets have already been ruled out by the other provisions.

Betting as a participant in a bona fide contest of skill, such as betting on yourself in a golf match, is specifically permitted, as is social gambling, where money only changes hands among participants that have a bona fide social relationship, although they left out the requirement that this be pre-existing, as surely this was intended. This would better define the level of relationship being prescribed.

Oddly enough, a Colorado jury ended up acquitting defendants charged with operating a poker game based upon the understanding that poker is more a game of skill than chance, even though the law states that outcomes dependent on chance even in part are illegal, finding it to be a bona fide game of skill. They missed the part that only participants can benefit, not the third parties under the charge.

Even if it was understood as a bona fide contest of skill, it is still illegal to profit from such betting, committing the crime of professional gambling, whose only exemption is that it is licensed and authorized, which this game was not. We do want to note that this decision does set a precedent for poker playing to be outside the scope of Colorado’s law, and no players were arrested in any case.

Colorado’s warning about the illegality of online gambling in the state goes completely off the rails though. It would have been enough to simply state that playing any game involving chance whatsoever or betting on sporting contests is against the law in Colorado, without their seeking to embellish their position with propaganda that is clearly false.

The state claims, among other things, that internet gambling is illegal under state and federal law, and it certainly is not illegal to gamble online under any federal law, nor does federal law even speak in any way to this activity.

They also claim that the UIGEA makes it against the law for players to use credit cards, checks, and electronic funds transfers to settle bets. The UIGEA only applies to financial intermediaries, like MasterCard and Visa, and does not even apply to gambling sites let alone players. They also falsely claim that the Wire Act applies to players, which only those who wish to misinform would ever claim.

The intent of this is not to provide any sort of accurate opinion of the law, but to instead attempt to use deception and subterfuge to dissuade their residents from gambling online. Ironically, if it really is against federal to settle bets with credit cards, this would mean that Colorado would allow the operation of their approved gambling contrary to this law.

This may not seem to matter, but if we understand the venue where internet bets take place as on the server side of things, which is actually a point of contention, if this betting is against federal law or not might matter, if it were really against the law for players to submit betting information across state lines in violation of the Wire Act. Players don’t submit the information though, they just request that it be submitted, and this is the legal reason why the Wire Act does not apply to them.

The mention of the use of credit cards to submit bets is curious, given that players do not nor cannot use these means to fund gambling accounts anymore, and use other means more off the grid like Bitcoin. If it were against federal law to do so, that may be a concern, even though they couldn’t catch you anyway due to the anonymous nature of this payment method, but the UIGEA speaks only to payment processors, and Bitcoin does not have a seat at this table as it is not owned nor administered by a legal person, so there is no one to charge.

It turns out that Colorado’s gambling law is tighter than in a lot of states, and instead of relying on the concept of betting, Colorado makes it a crime to risk anything of value. You might be placing a bet in Malta but it’s harder to reconcile your not risking money in Colorado. If we treat this like going to Monte Carlo, only virtually, this still may invoke some deliberation though, but it doesn’t matter because laws against online gambling are not enforceable anyway.

Land-Based Gambling in Colorado

The Colorado Lottery started back in 1983, although they proceeded cautiously and started out with just offering scratch tickets only. They do now sell tickets to large national lotteries such as Power Ball and Mega Millions, but waited until 2001 to add Power Ball and 2010 to start offering Mega Millions.

The state of Colorado now has all of the major drawings, and uses half of the profits from their lottery to fund wildlife and land conservation, with the other half going to improve the Colorado educational system.

Colorado also has legal pari-mutuel horse race betting, although the number of tracks that offer this is now down to just one. Arapahoe Park in Aurora offers horse races from May to August. The Yuma County Fair also offers races during their fair. Colorado also has 11 locations that offer off-track betting.

In 1991, the state of Colorado approved the opening of casinos in three historical towns in their state, Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek. All three are National Historic Districts, and all three were in dire shape economically prior to allowing them casinos. Originally, betting limits were set at $5, and it wasn’t until 2009 that they extended this to $100 and allowed casinos to remain open 24 hours.

These three cities took different approaches to their new role as the casino capitals of Colorado. Black Hawk, which has the advantage of being closest to metro Denver’s 3 million people, took a more glitzy approach to gambling, where Central City stuck to their historical roots, where things don’t look much different than they did in the glory days of Colorado gambling back in the 19th century. Cripple Creek chose the middle ground, a more historical approach than Black Hawk but not as traditional as Central City.

The casinos of the 19th century were nothing like those built in recent history, and Colorado’s casinos have emerged just like they did in the old days, with the town permitting them and their popping up naturally. Instead of granting specific licenses to projects, as is the case elsewhere, towns were given the licenses essentially, with the administration of the casino market being given over to them, towns that were in dire financial straits and eager to turn things around.

Black Hawk only has 128 full-time residents at last count, yet it has 16 casinos, including the state’s only large casino, the Ameristar Black Hawk. It features a 537 room hotel as well as a 57,000 square foot casino, with 1.332 slot machines, 16 blackjack tables, and 6 poker tables. It is only a modest sized casino by modern standards, but the only one of this size, with the rest of the casinos in the state being more like saloons than casinos, Mom and Pop casinos mostly.

Black Hawk casinos now all offer sports betting as well as casino gambling, teaming up with major sports betting brands to offer not only in-house sports betting, but sites that Colorado residents can place sports bets online at. In total, Black Hawk has 6,763 slot machines, 80 blackjack tables, 14 craps tables, 16 roulette tables, and 74 tables that offer various forms of poker, including both standard and casino poker.

Central City, two miles down the highway from Black Jack, was once known as the “Richest Square Mile on Earth” during the gold rush days, and is also close enough to Denver to be included in the city’s metropolitan area. Central City, with their population of 770, has 6 casinos, which are definitely in the traditional old west motif.

Central City is like going back in time, to a time where the city had 10,000 people during the boom days and was even in contention for being named the state capital. It’s population today may be a shadow of that but at least they do have a decent amount of casino gambling available, offering both slots and table games, which has helped keep the town from dying altogether.

Cripple Creek is another old mining town that has been converted into a casino town, although Cripple Creek is well away from the Denver area and the two other gambling towns in Colorado and is located within a short drive of Colorado Springs’ 738,000 residents. Cripple Creek has the largest population of the three Colorado casino towns, with 1,258 people, and has 9 casinos, all but one on the town’s main street within walking distance of each other.

Some of Cripple Creek’s casinos are also small hotels, just like what these towns used to have in the frontier days. The 9 casinos combined represent a pretty good sized casino in total, with 3,581 slots, 30 blackjack tables, 6 roulette tables, and 3 craps tables, and splitting this up among 6 different venues does provide a lot more variety than if this was held at just one or two venues.

There are also 2 Indian casinos in the southwest corner of the state. The Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio is a modern looking resort which stands in stark contrast to the casinos in the three old mining towns elsewhere in the state. It has 600 slots and 4 gaming tables, so this is nothing like Las Vegas, but the area does have a major ski resort nearby and those who wish to both ski and gamble can get to the tables in less than a half hour.

The Ute Mountain Casino Hotel is another modern looking hotel casino but of smaller size, with a 90 room hotel and a small casino floor that offers slots, blackjack, and poker, as well as a restaurant and gift shop.

Overall, there is a good amount of casino gambling in Colorado, with most of it in two locations in the state close to the state’s two largest population areas. This is a far cry from completely open casino gambling, although also a far cry from neighboring Utah, where gambling in any form is strictly prohibited and even seen as an evil practice.

Colorado Online Casinos & Slots Gambling

In spite of the state of Colorado puffing up their laws against online gambling, it is hard to argue very well against the idea of online gambling not risking items of value while playing games based upon chance even in part as well as placing wagers on sporting events.

The false narrative that the state has engaged in seeking to clarify the laws against gambling by relying on citing federal law as well is for amusement purposes only, and now that Colorado offers regulated online gambling themselves now, if their claims were true, the state themselves would be breaking these laws as well as their players.

Gambling online, apart from placing wagers at Colorado regulated and approved online sports books, would represent a violation of state law, subject to being charged with a petty crime, in theory at least.

Laws against online gambling are themselves limited to being theoretical though as these laws do not have any real practical application. They of course don’t tell you this, where we are supposed to stop at the point where we’re told this is illegal and just refrain on that basis, on the basis of principle perhaps, instead of the normal appeal to be subject to arrest and conviction that criminal law normally invokes.

This would require that, at a minimum, the state having the means and the will to spy on people online, neither of which is the case or even close. Even then, players could surf anonymously through VPN access and use anonymous payment methods such as Bitcoin, so governments cannot really monitor online gambling and enforce anti-online gambling laws. They cannot even do this in China with no restrictions on privacy or government interference.

Getting online sports betting was a big win though for those who wish to see progress as far as the growth of Colorado gambling goes, and sports betting is big business in the United States. Coloradans can play on no less than 14 online sports betting platforms, including some of the biggest names in the business such as Draft Kings, William Hill, Bet Fred, Fanduel, Fox Bet, and more.

This was actually a wise move since including all these sportsbooks makes it less likely that Colorado sports bettors will continue to play at sites not regulated by the state. Colorado does skim 10% of the operators’ profits, and there is enough of a quorum to effectively drive away offshore competition, which is a factor that is not often considered, with a lot of states still choosing to pretend that they are the only game in town.

When it comes to playing real money poker and casino games online, offshore sites are still the only option, but a clear option given that there are sites of high quality that still happily serve this market. It is our role to provide expert advice on these matters for those who choose to take a practical view of the situation and realize that the only thing stopping them from gambling online all they want is their own lack of understanding or will.

Future of Gambling in Colorado

It may seem fine to use access to online gambling as a tool to seek to improve the economies of various towns in their state, but if we understand offering gambling in the same way that we understand permitting commercial operations in general, this will have us rightly questioning whether Colorado is acting arbitrarily here. People would surely be upset if they had to travel out of town to buy other things they want, where these were not allowed to be sold in the cities, just because they wanted to boost traffic in these little towns.

By allowing casinos in these three small towns, they can no longer claim that casino gambling is wrong in principle, and the question then falls upon them to explain on what basis can they justify this inconsistency. The only answer is that the people of Colorado are fine with this arrangement, and this is what needs to change before we can ever see land-based casino gambling expand.

The same holds true for the further expansion of real money online gambling in the state, in spite of their stepping up now and allowing both land-based and online sports betting. Allowing both does demonstrate at least some commitment to consistency, something notably absent in their other decisions.

While they may worry that competition from real money online poker and casino sites may negatively effect their economic project casino plan, all they need to do is do what they did with online sports betting, just turning it over to the existing casinos located in these towns of interest. That actually could happen pretty quickly if Colorado wanted to.

In the meantime, Coloradans don’t really need the state’s permission to access some of the best real money poker and real money casino gambling that the world has to offer, as long as you know where to go. If you are up for this, we will show you.

Colorado Online Slots & Casinos FAQs
  • When did legal gambling first come to Colorado?

    Some states started out their history with gambling being allowed from the start, although few had gambling play such a huge role in their early history as Colorado. Saloons offering gambling were among the first structures built, and played a prominent role in frontier towns in Colorado until the state grew out of this phase and as the view toward gambling around the country deteriorated.

  • Why did early Coloradans take to gambling so much?

    Moving to Colorado in its frontier days was nothing like just loading all of your things in a van and driving across the country. There was promise of a better life, but along the way, you had to put yours on the line. This was not anything that attracted many averse to gambling because just making this journey required you to be a risk seeker instead. Once they got there, gambling became firmly entrenched in the culture of these towns.

  • What does Colorado law say today about gambling?

    Aside from what is expressly permitted, which includes the lottery, charitable gaming, social gambling, betting on horses, playing at land-based casinos in three designated towns, gambling at the state’s two Indian casinos, and placing bets on sports at both land-based and online platforms, any other sort of risking anything of value on a contingent event is against the law in Colorado.

  • Are there any loopholes in Colorado gambling law?

    There are a number of states that have written their gambling laws in an unclear way, where courts are left to add their own beliefs about something to fill the gaps, which is not a task that should ever be left to courts and is used as a last resort. Colorado’s gambling prohibitions are as tight as a drum though, and not only clearly prohibit casino and poker, they even mention sports betting specifically, although their allowance of sports betting now takes precedence.

  • What land-based gambling options does Colorado offer?

    The Colorado Lottery now offers a full range of lottery games, including all the popular national ones. Like most states, Colorado allows for charitable gambling, as well as social gambling. You can bet at Colorado’s sole remaining horse race track as well as numerous off-track betting locations. Three of Colorado’s towns also offer casino betting, including sports betting now. Colorado also has 2 tribal casinos that offer both slots and table games.

  • Why did Colorado limit casino gambling to 3 small towns?

    Prior to approving any sort of gambling, states sit on the side of not allowing it, and change only happens when something tips this scale. In Colorado, the scale-tipping came from bad economic times befalling three historic towns, Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek. All are historic mining towns from the gold rush era who were struggling to stay alive. Colorado relented and allowed these towns to exclusively host casinos, apart from Colorado’s two tribal casinos.

  • What are the prospects of Colorado allowing casinos elsewhere in the state?

    At present at least, the stimulus to the economies of the three old mining towns that Colorado allows has been needed, and in the case of Cripple Creek, key to the town’s survival, where they are still barely getting by. The coming of sports betting will help, but it will only be when Colorado is ready to take these towns off of life support that they will consider diluting their market share by allowing outside competition.

  • Does Colorado license real money online gambling?

    In spite of Colorado being so explicitly opposed to online gambling, they recently had a change of heart and got caught up in the rush to regulating sports betting that they perhaps forgot that they didn’t like online gambling and made real money sports betting legal. That’s as far as they have gone though and real money online poker and casino gambling may be a way off, although Colorado has certainly demonstrated a willingness to change its mind.

  • Does online gambling at offshore sites break the law in Colorado?

    Colorado gambling law makes it a petty crime to risk anything of value on any game involving chance. While a Colorado court decision held that playing poker is a bona fide game of skill and exempt from being considered illegal, which people are entitled to act in confidence with, real money casino gambling is definitely not a bona fide game of skill. The players didn’t get charged in this bust, and they can’t bust you for gambling online even if they wish to very badly.

  • Where can Coloradans go to play poker and casino games now?

    While states can license and regulate real money online poker sites and real money online casino sites on their own, due to the nature of the internet, players can access sites that are regulated in other jurisdictions that allow Colorado residents to play at. This is not unlike having no casinos nearby but traveling to other countries to play, through the magic of the internet. We can show you where the best places to travel to are.

Chief Editor: Mike leverages his true passion for online gambling to create a uniquely informative site that takes players well beyond the standard fare in the industry.

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