Colorado may have had the most awkward sports betting launch in the United States.
Proposition DD, which legalized sports wagering in the Centennial State, narrowly passed in late 2019, but by the time regulators were ready for launch the following spring, what were they going to offer? By early March, most major sports leagues had either shut down or radically altered their schedules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel and BetRivers still wanted to launch on May 1, even though the brick-and-mortar casinos in the state had shut down, so the Colorado Gaming Division complied.
“There was no retail element, then there really weren’t any sports either,” said Dan Hartman, the state gaming division’s longtime director. “It was interesting, but a handful of operators wanted to go and we knew all these states were coming on and everyone had their due dates, so we went forward with it. It probably would have been an easy call to say we were not going to go and there probably would have been support for that, but it actually worked out OK because it gave us a little bit of a staggered start.”
"He’s a real gem of an unknown person in public service."
Dan Hartman isn't a household name in Colorado, but for sports bettors, he should be. Jill Dorson takes a look at the man behind sports betting in Colorado: https://t.co/lsg0sFiBhq pic.twitter.com/JYO1sJN9Nb
— COBets (@BetsColorado) June 12, 2020
That meant the early days of Colorado mobile sports betting featured action on such sports as ping-pong and darts, but not much else.
A practical, permissive approach
Launching in the early days of a pandemic because some of the stakeholders were on board and many bettors in the state had been looking forward to that day is just one example of Hartman’s pragmatic, easygoing style of gaming leadership. His 31-year tenure with the Department of Revenue officially ended on Monday, though he said he’ll be around the office all week getting things ready for his successor, who has not yet been hired.
Hartman said he’s proud of Colorado’s legal, regulated sports betting industry. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Colorado sports betting is the large array of operators — more than 20 — due to the state’s low entry costs and the large betting menus many of them offer.
“The legislation we had was very good,” Hartman said. “It gave us as regulators a lot of room to make choices to come out with the best kind of program. The way it was set up was to be a very competitive market. It has a low cost of entry and the only thing that limited how many we had opening was how many casinos we had. From the beginning, it was intended to be a competitive market where people could maybe take their first shot at it and that’s what many did.”
Hartman also is proud that four sports betting operators — PointsBet, Tipico Sportsbook, Betsson, and BlueBet — chose Colorado as headquarters for their North American operations. That meant the state benefitted not just from the taxes on sports bets, but from the economic impact of those projects. He thinks the relatively permissive environment for operators has led to a good product for bettors.
“What we say is we have regulations that allow them to really operate and be competitive,” Hartman said. “They’re not slowed down and hampered by bureaucracy.”
Plenty of experience in regulation
It makes sense that Hartman was the choice to run gaming with sports betting looming on the horizon. He began his regulatory career in 1992, first in the greyhound and horse racing industries, then while running the medical marijuana program in Colorado — a particular challenge since it was the first of its kind in the U.S.
By contrast, a handful of states already had legalized sports betting, so he and his staff could pick and choose the aspects of those states’ regulatory structures that they wanted to adopt.
“It’s certainly a little different when you start from white paper,” Hartman said. “Not a white paper, but from plain white paper, with nothing on it.”
Hartman’s next adventure might involve trying to keep a little white ball in bounds. He’s off to spend some time with his three grandchildren, who live in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and is hoping he can “hack up a golf course or two” along the way. He said he’s not sure what his next professional endeavor will be, but that he’s probably “not going to go from 100 mph to zero.”
He said he’s proud of the responsible gambling measures he has helped enact in Colorado, but that those programs will improve given the rapid growth in data as his office and the operators look to identify the most vulnerable bettors.
“Legal operators are not trying to make money off the back of somebody with a problem,” Hartman said. “Illegal offshore groups, probably so, bookies, probably so, but you don’t set up a legal, regulated safe market to take advantage of players.”
Emerging challenges for his successor
Hartman thinks there’s more work to be done in building national prohibited-bettors lists that would include the athletes and staff of any sports team or university athletic departments that generate bettable action. He thinks cybersecurity will remain a crucial area of the business as hackers look to break into bettors’ accounts. And he thinks athletes themselves need better protection, something the Colorado Division of Gaming is discussing.
“When a college basketball player hits a 3-pointer because he’s playing until the end of the buzzer and that throws off the line, it doesn’t change the wins and losses, but it throws off the line. … Those people shouldn’t get berated on social media or anywhere else,” Hartman said.
Those challenges will await whoever moves into Hartman’s Denver office, but he embarks on his retirement feeling like he put matters in order for that successor, who will be named after a national search. He’s even looking forward to placing a sports bet or two now that he’s not prohibited from doing so.
“I’m happy with where I’m at,” Hartman said. “I’m happy to move on to the next chapter, whatever that is.”