Colorado Native American tribes deserve say in sports betting laws


Except for the annual Texas holdem playoff at a fellow professor’s home, I don’t gamble. I’m not against it; I just don’t feel that lucky.

If a casino can furnish visitors with a gilded taste of Venice or even cheap drinks and an 8 ounce sirloin, it’s pretty obvious; the house almost always wins. That said, I don’t care if other people gamble. When it comes to state gambling policies, you could say I don’t have a dog in that race. Those who are impacted, however, do deserve a seat at the track.

Thanks to a 2022 law (Senate Bill 105), Native American tribes can address the General Assembly every year. This week, chairmen of the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes, Manuel Heart and Melvin J. Baker, spoke to the General Assembly about state issues that impact their members and lands, including online sports betting.

In 2019, the Colorado electorate voted for Proposition DD to permit sports betting and authorized state lawmakers to levy a 10% tax on proceeds. The majority of proceeds go to the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund, which supports Colorado Water Plan projects for water storage, stream restoration, water education, and more. An updated Colorado Water Plan is expected to be finalized later this year.

Since 2020 when it became available, sports betting has grown significantly in popularity. More than $8 billion in bets on sports have been wagered since 2020. Last year, the state collected $12 million in sports betting taxes, more than twice as much as the year before. This year, the state expects to generate as much as $24 million in tax revenue.

Two dozen Colorado casinos offer in-person or online sports betting or both. Some casinos have partnered with national organizations such as FanDuel and DraftKings. The Ute Mountain Casino Hotel in Towaoc offers onsite sports betting, and the Southern Ute Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio offers onsite and online sports betting. The latter, however, is not part of the statewide program authorized by Proposition DD because tribes do not pay state taxes.

The issue is complicated because tribes are governed by state, federal, and tribal law. The chairmen said that back in 2019 proponents of the proposition did not consult them when crafting the referred measure.

Like other areas of Colorado, Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute lands are impacted by prevailing drought conditions. They have water rights and need to develop their infrastructure on their lands in southwest Colorado. Lawmakers and the Polis administration are looking for ways the tribes can designate sports betting tax revenue for these water projects.

Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute are two of the 29 tribes located within the Colorado River Basin. They need to be included in discussions and solutions regarding this precious resource.

This column rarely salutes the actions of the Colorado General Assembly but will today. Senate Bill 105 is accomplishing the goal of more inclusive lawmaking and should be lauded along with a second 2022 law, Senate Bill 104. That law requires new and amended state laws that provide grants and benefits to local government entities and also designate tribes within Colorado as eligible participants when legal and appropriate.

Additionally, the law requires the Colorado commission on Indian affairs, in consultation with the state’s two tribes, to submit a report to the legislature regarding ways the state can partner with tribal governments.

I’m not a betting woman, but I’ll wager that inclusive lawmaking will be a win-win for all Coloradans.

Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer.

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