With big sports back, Colorado’s betting scene exploded with $59 million in pent-up wagers
A serious bettor takes us through the shutdown and bounce back, while the state’s new sportsbooks flood the market with online deals and a nod to retail operations
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down major sports in the U.S. and around the world this spring, Peter Jennings felt the sting as more than just a fan. Entrepreneurial since high school and with a head for numbers that helped earn him a degree in finance, he parlayed his love for sports into an unconventional career.
The 32-year-old former stockbroker shifted his attention in 2012 from what he calls “the biggest casino in the world” — the stock market — to making big money playing daily fantasy sports, and then into developing data tools and services for other players. He’d been eagerly awaiting the legalization of sports betting in Colorado because it offered a much-anticipated chance to grow the industry for which he has offered online content while also making a good living with his own analytical approach to wagering.
Suddenly, just as Colorado’s new law went into effect, he found himself looking overseas and to relatively obscure competitions for action. Not that he was bored. There was still Korean pro baseball in full swing, though he could never bring himself to bet the high-level table tennis or darts that surfaced as wagering options. Golf came back slowly. The shutdown also opened his eyes to the possibilities of esports, the video-game competitions that, he notes, are by their very nature pandemic proof. He’s bullish on that market.
“It was a strange time, with so much uncertainty,” says Jennings, who now runs sports-related business ventures — including his personal bets — from an array of TV and computer screens in the home office of his Greenwood Village condo. “A lot of times during recessions, gambling goes up. And people always love sports, so it’s a great escape during bad times. But I didn’t project a pandemic.”
Now, with major pro sports returning, under a protective bubble in some cases and with fans socially distanced to their living room couches, Colorado’s foray into legalized betting has finally launched in earnest.
Sports bets officially emerged from the shadows on May 1, and like many other businesses suddenly pivoting during the shutdown, this one initially featured a limited menu. That first month, bettors laid down only $25.6 million before a surge to $38.1 million in June — nearly a 50% increase that, under the circumstances, encouraged state officials and supporters.
Still, early estimates of more than $1 billion in annual wagering seemed eons away.
But after July, that projection doesn’t seem so far-fetched. With major U.S. sports like baseball slowly returning to play, the action kicked up a notch.
The state Department of Revenue reported on Wednesday that more than $59 million was wagered in July, just over a 55% increase from June and more than double May’s relatively modest number. After payouts to winners, operators reported more than $2.4 million in net sports betting proceeds and almost $242,000 in taxes due to the state.
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