Colorado Poker & Online Gambling Laws

Despite being the eighth largest of the US states, Colorado has a relatively small population of around 5.2 million people – just more than half of New Jersey. This has not stopped it from gaining attention as one of the ten states most likely to introduce online poker for real money in the near future, particularly as a revision of Colorado gambling laws could kick-start a domino effect in its neighboring states – with the exception of Utah of course!

The regulation of online poker in Colorado would not be such a massive step for the Centennial State, which already has forty-three land based casinos – the second highest density of casinos-per-head in the United States after Nevada [1]. However, there are some obstacles to overcome before legislation can be introduced to regulate online poker in Colorado – most notably that it would require a constitutional amendment to change existing gambling laws in Colorado [2].

Can I Legally Play Online Poker if I Live in Colorado?

Legally? No. Colorado´s Division of Gaming states on its website that Internet gambling is illegal under state and federal laws [3] and, as the state has defined gambling as any game in which there is an element of chance in whole or in part [4], you are not legally allowed to play online poker in Colorado (yet) irrespective of your views on the Wire Act, UIGEA or poker being a game of skill.

Colorado´s Division of Gaming also quotes on its website that, although online services from out of state may be advertised as being legal or licensed, it still remains illegal for citizens of Colorado to place bets with these businesses. The crime of playing online poker in Colorado is classified as a Class 1 petty offense and is punishable by a fine of up to $500 or a jail sentence of up to six months.

Nobody in Colorado has ever been charged with the crime of playing online poker, and consequently there are still plenty of real money poker sites offering a service to online poker players in Colorado if you are willing to take a chance.

Is it Legal to Play Poker in Colorado at all?

Colorado´s gambling laws ban any form of gambling unless it is expressly approved. Fortunately for poker players in Colorado, live poker has been approved at nineteen of the state´s commercial casinos in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek [5] and at the tribal gaming establishment at Sky Ute. However, high-rollers might want to look elsewhere for their action, as the maximum bet allowed in Colorado casinos in $100.00 [6].

There is also a Social Gaming exception to the statute in Colorado which bans all forms of gambling except those sanctioned by the state. In order to play poker socially, the participants in the game must have an established social relationship based upon some other common interest other than the gambling activity, and there must be no house cut or rake for hosting the games [7].

Colorado´s gambling laws have twice been challenged in the courts with mixed results. In 1977 the Wheatridge Poker Club was forced to close after being found guilty of charging players annual membership dues and renting chairs at poker tables for $2.00 [8]. However, in 2009, a case against Kevin Riley was thrown out when Professor Robert Hannum gave evidence to show that skill would overcome luck in 97% of poker games [9]. However, this latter decision did not prompt a change in the laws.

The History of Gambling Legislation in Colorado

According to popular legend, Colorado was home to the first ever casino on American soil – Brown´s Saloon – which opened in 1822 to attract trappers and gold miners. As the trappers and gold miners moved west to California – and as Colorado joined the Union in 1876 – gambling throughout Colorado was limited by the state constitution.

Little by little concessions were introduced to allow more gambling within the state´s boundaries and, in 1949, the Colorado Racing Commission was established to regulate parimuteul betting at Arapahoe Park horseracing track and the state´s four greyhound racing venues [10]. Three off-track betting venues have since been licensed to allow punters to bet on horseracing and greyhound racing throughout the country.

Other notable dates in Colorado´s legislative history include:

1958 – Voters pass an amendment to the State Constitution creating a regulatory and enforcement environment for bingo, pull-tabs and raffles overseen by the Secretary of State [11].

1982 – Legislation is passed to allow a state lottery and the first tickets go on sale in April the following year. The lottery went online in 1996 [12].

1990 – Voters approved limited-stakes casino gambling in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek to support local economic development and statewide historic preservation [13].

1992 – Following the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act [14], tribal casinos open in Towaoc on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation and in Ignacio on the Southern Ute reservation.

2005 – Attorney General John Suthers issues a news release confirming that online gambling in any form is illegal in Colorado [15].

The Current Situation Regarding Online Poker in Colorado

Most of the state´s lawmakers have seen the financial benefits that legalized gaming in brick and mortal casinos has brought to Colorado. According to the Colorado Gaming Association, taxation on gambling in the state´s legalized casinos generates more than $100 million each year and the industry provides over 27,000 jobs [16]. Consequently, some interested parties are looking towards regulating online poker in Colorado in order to increase those numbers.

Legislation was quietly drafted in 2013, but failed to make it into the General Assembly [17]. Those in favor of legislation were not discouraged, and are closely monitoring activities in nearby Nevada to see what impact the introduction of online poker has had on live poker revenues. According to Lois Rice – executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association – We’re still exploring it.

Poker´s Big Winners from Colorado

Because of the limits imposed on poker in Colorado, most of the state´s big winners have earned their fortunes in nearby Las Vegas – including Francois Safieddine and Chance Kornuth (second and third on the all-time Colorado poker winnings list [18]), who have both won gold bracelets in World Series of Poker Championship events.

The top live poker money-earner from Colorado is Pratyush Buddiga who, despite never having won a WSOP bracelet, has earned more than $1.8 million from countries as far afield as Macau, Spain, Germany and Monaco. However, his impressive lifetime earnings only place Buddiga at 338th in the all-time US top money earners list, and he wouldn´t even make an impression on the top 100 money earners in Nevada!

The Chances of Colorado Online Poker being Regulated in the Future

It is pretty certain that online poker will be regulated in Colorado within a few years. Law makers and industry professionals appear to be working hand-in-hand to bring online poker to Colorado and are paying close attention to events in Nevada and New Jersey (on whose legislation the 2013 draft was based) to see the pros and cons of regulation.

Some distracters such as Wellington Webb – a former mayor of Denver and now a Sheldon Adelson puppet – have campaigned against the regulation of online poker on the grounds that it will kill jobs in Colorado [19]. Unfortunately Webb & Co blow their argument out of the water by acknowledging the presence of out-of-state online poker sites. If Colorado regulates online poker using the New Jersey model, it is likely that the out-of-state will be blocked in the future to benefit operators in Colorado.


[1] USA Today – “These 13 States Raked in $34B in Gaming Revenue”
[2] Denver Post – “AG Suthers Formal Opinion on Online Gambling”
[3] Colorado Division of Revenue – Division of Gambling
[4] Colorado Criminal Code – Relevant Section §18.10.102
[5] Colorado Casinos – August 2014
[6] Wikipedia explanation of “Amendment 50”
[7] Colorado Division of Gaming – “Social Gambling Exception”
[8] People –vs.– Wheatridge Poker Club
[9] Colorado –vs.– Riley – The Dominant Factor Test
[10] Colorado Racing Commission
[11] Colorado Constitution Article 18 Section 2
[12] History of the Colorado Lottery
[13] Colorado Limited Gaming Initiative
[14] Indian Gaming Regulatory Act 1988
[15] Caution against Illegal Gambling Activities
[16] Colorado Gaming Association website
[17] Denver Post – “Colorado Explores Online Gambling”
[18] Hendon Mob Database – All-time money list Colorado
[19] Denver Post – “Internet Gambling will Kill Jobs in Colorado”