Colorado Poker Laws
In the spring of 2012, the Colorado Gaming Association wrote a bill to legalize online gaming, including poker, with the support of the land-based casinos of the state. The plan was to introduce the measure during the legislative session that began in January 2013 in an effort to follow the lead of New Jersey in its online gambling endeavors. After discussions with legislators at the time, however, the group determined there was not enough support to push the issue and dropped the bill.
There have been no concerted efforts since that time.
Is Online Poker Legal or Illegal in Colorado?
Online poker and gambling are specifically prohibited in Colorado. The State of Colorado Department of Law, Office of the Attorney General, declared it illegal via a formal opinion in 2013.
Is Any Gambling Legal in Colorado?
Yes. Several types of gambling are legal in Colorado, including social gambling, charitable gambling, bingo, raffles, and pari-mutuel wagering for off-track simulcasts.
There are two casinos on Native American reservations, both run by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in the southwest portion of the state. Those casinos offer every thing from slot machines to poker and other table games, and bingo.
Casinos are also allowed in the mountain towns of Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek to revitalize their struggling economies. The properties offer blackjack and poker games, as well as limited slot machine play, electronic keno, and video poker.
Colorado Laws Pertinent to Online Poker
The Code of Colorado lists the laws and regulations, as published by the Secretary of State, for all gaming allowed in the state.
The Colorado Limited Gaming Act of 1991 amended the state’s constitution and applied the Gambling Payment Intercept Act. The 106-page document outlined the details of the casinos allowed to operate in Central, Cripple Creek, and Black Hawk. It defined limited gaming as physical and electronic slot machines, craps, roulette, and poker and blackjack card games. The document even defines poker as a “card game played by a player or players who are dealt cards by the dealer,” and it goes on to describe the object of the game.
Originally, poker players were limited to $5 maximum wagers, and the hours of operation were limited from 8am to 2am. In 2009, however, Amendment 50 was passed to improve those conditions. Bets were raised to $100 maximums, and casinos were allowed to remain open 24 hours per day.
For the game of poker in Colorado, Rule 10 details all rules pertinent to the game and management procedures. The 147-page document starts by noting,
“The game of poker authorized pursuant to article 47.1 of title 12, C.R.S., including all variations thereof, shall be permitted and conducted according to the rules and provisions set forth in this Rule 10.”
Further, it details all requirements and rules for cash game and tournament poker, noting throughout that every entity involved in the game must be licensed by the state, and all poker must be conducted on licensed premises.
The Department of Revenue website does address internet gambling in its “frequently asked questions” section. Specifically, it reads:
“Internet gambling is illegal under state and federal laws. Colorado law prohibits the transmission or reception of gambling information by any means.”
It then cites reasons for this law.
- Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 prohibits gamblers from using credit cards, checks, and electronic fund transfers to place and settle bets
- 1961 Wire Act prohibits wire communications in interstate or foreign commerce for placing bets
- Persons who wager online have no recourse if not paid for winnings
- Players are not guaranteed odds
Further, the document states,
“Many online sites advertise they re ‘legal’ and ‘licensed’ forms of wagering. They may be legal or licensed where the bets are received, but it remains illegal to place bets from Colorado with these businesses. In addition, the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission prohibits persons and businesses licensed in the casino industry in Colorado from having any involvement with internet gaming sites that can be accessed by Colorado residents.”
In 2013, the Division of Gaming Director at the Department of Revenue requested a formal legal opinion regarding the “permissibility of gambling via the internet under state law from Colorado Attorney General John Suthers”, and he wrote it on December 13, 2013. In the document, he addressed every potential loophole that might allow online gambling and debunked every one.
Suthers then addressed what would need to be done to authorize online gambling in Colorado. He noted that an amendment to the Colorado Constitution would be required, and the wording would have to specify where the servers and other hardware would need to be located. He also clarified that voter approval in a statewide election would not be necessary if an amendment is passed by the state legislature, which could also simply expand the definition of limited gaming.
According to Suthers, Colorado law prohibits the general assembly from authorizing lotteries except games of chance, and the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that poker and other wagering games were games of chance, per the Charnes v. Central City Opera House Association case of 1989 upholding Ginsberg v. Centennial Turf Club of 1952.
Ultimately, he wrote, “I conclude that a constitutional amendment is the only lawful means by which to expand limited gaming to include online gambling.” And that includes poker.
Disclaimer: This is not written by an attorney and is not or should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney for help interpreting these laws as they pertain to any given situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Do people in Colorado continue to play online poker?
Answer: There are some players who patronize online poker sites that are licensed outside of the United States. There have never been any prosecutions of those players, but the law is very clear that the activity is considered illegal under Colorado law.
Question: Could voters put a proposal on the ballot to legalize online poker?
Answer: Yes. While the attorney general suggested the most logical way to legalize online poker and gambling would be through a constitutional amendment in the legislature, voters could tackle the issue on their own and obtain enough signatures to put the measure on a ballot. However, the efforts required are significant. The Poker Players Alliance may have a better idea of the best way to pursue online poker legalization in Colorado, as that lobbying organization has spoken to lawmakers and knows the likelihood of obtaining enough legislative support to consider and then pass a bill.
Question: Can legalized casinos operate an online poker site?
Answer: No. The casino operators do not have the authority to operate online gambling under their current licenses. They have been supportive of a legalization bill in the past, however, and would likely support another effort to offer online poker. The three full-fledged casinos in Colorado are in fairly remote locations, so online poker and casino games would extend their reach and broaden their customer base.
Resources Available in the State of Colorado