FILE PHOTO The wagering boards at BetFred sportsbook at the Saratoga Casino in Black Hawk. 

Colorado gamblers bet more than $2.3 billion on sports in the first year of legal wagering, exceeding most forecasts, the Colorado Division of Gaming reported Monday.

The 12-month total is the third highest for any state after New Jersey and Illinois in the first year after legalizing such wagering, according to an analysis by sports betting website PlayColorado. The monthly total grew every month through January after starting slowly in May 2020, when all U.S. professional and college sports were shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting bets to table tennis (still popular with bettors) and a handful of international sporting events.

"This first year of sports betting exceeded our expectations, especially after we launched amid a worldwide pandemic that shuttered the casinos (which house retail sportsbooks), the industry, and Colorado," gaming division Director Dan Hartman said in a news release. "Looking back on a year ago, I don't believe any of us expected to be where we are with our numbers and our operations."

The sports wagering industry started in Colorado entirely online since the state's casinos pandemic restrictions shuttered casinos between mid-March and mid-June. All but about 2% of bets are made online through 20 licensed online sports wagering sites with 16 retail sports books splitting the remaining amount. Sportsbooks netted $148.1 million in revenue after paying winners, generating nearly $67 million in profits.

“As good as the results have been, they are artificially low because of the effects of the pandemic, said Eric Ramsey, a PlayColorado analyst. "Colorado’s market launched under unprecedented circumstances, but its online-forward framework and robust roster of operators spurred a quick ramp-up despite pandemic-related challenges. Since, Colorado has evolved into one of the most innovative and dynamic markets in the country, and remains one of the great success stories in the U.S.”

April was a slow month for sports betting with the monthly handle declining 18.5% from March to $245.3 million. But April is typically weaker than March because all but one game of the NCAA basketball tournament happens in March. A detailed breakdown of the April and full-year totals will not be available from the division until late this month when an audit is completed of the April numbers. Despite the lower handle, Colorado sportsbooks generated a record $15.1 million in profits last month.

Voters agreed to legalize and tax sports betting in November 2019 with the passage of Proposition DD, which also directed much of the tax revenue to the Colorado Water Plan, a comprehensive vision for the state’s water future created in 2015. The state collected $5.55 million in taxse from sportsbooks during the first 11 months of legal betting; the April tax collection total is not yet available.

Contact Wayne Heilman 636-0234

Facebook www.facebook.com/wayne.heilman

Twitter twitter.com/wayneheilman