In the mid-2010s, Colorado is generally characterized as high on the tolerance scale for individual freedoms. Despite a rather purple record in national and statewide elections since, likesay, forever, Colorado won itself “first in the nation” status (along with Washington) when marijuana was decriminalized by public referendum in November 2012. And the whole flap about the legality of daily fantasy football in 2014-15 registered nary a blip on the radar of Colorado, legislatively speaking (writing?).
This recent civil libertarianism belies a history of illegal gambling – and in particular illegal sports betting – that very few states can claim. In Colorado, it’s better to be a bettor now than ever. (Which is not to say that further liberalization won’t be coming to the state, because it will.)
Betting in Colorado
Historians believe that the concept of what we think of today as a “saloon” was a little ol’ waterin’ hole called Brown’s Saloon. This center of vice – on offer were card games, prostitutes and, of course, lotsa booze – was established in 1822 (!) in a town called Brown’s Hole. The population of Brown’s Hole is today exactly 0, as the area is now devoted to the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge – but in the 19th century, it was a swell pit stop located on the border of the Colorado, Utah and Wyoming Territories.
For betting (and falling prey to scams) purposes, Brown’s Hole set the template for boomtowns like Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek up until the state’s incorporation in 1876. However, with the criminal element already so deeply entrenched within Colorado society (and, let’s face it, economics), illegal betting was to be found in Colorado’s bigger cities, especially Denver, right through to the 1990s.
Just as sports like Brown’s Hole had served as handy stopover in the fur-trading and mining days, so too were Denver, Colorado Springs and other burgeoning cities in the days of Prohibition. Loads of illegal hooch – as well as the classic concomitant vices – could be found in Colorado in the 1920s and 30s. By the early 30s, a mobster named Joseph Roma and his “Smaldone Crime Family”, a.k.a. the “Colorado Crime Family” were said to have gained control over all betting operations in the state.
Football in Colorado
A North American city or state may field multiple sports teams, but typically one ranks higher in the hearts of local sports fans. St. Louis belongs to the Cardinals like the Yankees own New York. The Maple Leafs are Toronto’s team like the Cowboys and Steelers are Dallas’s and Pittsburgh’s.
Well, Colorado will always belong to the Broncos. The AFL’s decision to establish a professional football team in Denver in 1960 showed foresight and confidence. The team would be the first in the American Southwest, the first in the entire Mountain Time Zone. And back in ’60, Denver was hardly the slam-dunk call for a major-league franchise of any sort that the metropolis is today: At that time, the population of Denver was around 493,000 as compared to the 693,000 estimated for 2015 – growth of over 40% in 35 years. When the Broncos kicked off the 1960 season, Denver ranked just 22nd in population among U.S. cities in 1960, behind NFL/AFL-less Memphis, Cincinnati, Seattle, San Diego, San Antonio and New Orleans.
The Broncos have rewarded the citizenry’s love with a record of success that certain other franchises, likesay the Rockies and Nuggets, would sell souls for. As of 2018, the team has run up a .538 winning percentage, good for 10th best in NFL history and, despite a brutal ’17 season, still a few games better than the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders. The Broncos’ eight Super Bowl appearances are topped in number only by the New England Patriots, and the team’s three wins top 19 other franchises.
In fact, the love for the Denver Broncos in the city and state ironically fostered a relatively slaternative to NFL football in the 1980s: The United states Football League (USFL) brought the Denver Gold to town in 1983. Ownership hired former Broncos head coach Red Miller (and later replaced him with Super Bowl XII-losing quarterback Craig Morton), posted the highest attendance within the league and turned a profit in year one despite a losing record. By 1985, the team finally managed a winning mark, going 11-7, but attendance was down to a poor 14,400 per game in Denver. A dude by the name of Donald Trump led the charge for the USFL to switch to a fall schedule for a would-be 1986 season, and Gold ownership knew competition with the Broncos would be fruitless, selling his player contracts to the Jacksonville Bulls.
As for college football in Colorado, the most noteworthy team is the University of Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffaloes began play way back in 1890, first gaining some real college football headlines in 1937. Led by tailback Byron “Whizzer” White, the 1937 Buffaloes went 8-1 and earned a Cotton Bowl bid, losing to Rice, 28-14. The Buffaloes wouldn’t make another bowl game until 1956, when they overcame the Clemson Tigers, 27-21. UC would ultimately win a national championship (or rater, split a national championship with Georgia Tech) when they overcame the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 1991 Orange Bowl, 10-9. In the 21st century, however, the Buffaloes are a dismal 1-6 in bowl games.
Betting on Football in Colorado
Has NFLbets mentioned that Colorado state law is mighty liberal in terms of civil rights? Colorado was one of the first states to codify the legality of daily fantasy sports for its citizens, with legislators settling the issue in early 2015 well before any attorney the wrangling could hit the courtrooms.
Given the state’s delight with the tax revenues brought in post-marijuana legalization – not to mention a very profitable 25-year run for native American-run casinos in the state – we reckon Colorado will be among the first to legalize football betting in the United States after the New Jersey case is heard in the Supreme Court in 2018.