Colorado’s Sky Ute Become First To Launch Statewide Tribal Sports Betting App

Possibly two industry firsts, including the first Native American property to go to market with a mobile sportsbook available for download statewide.
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The quick-growing Colorado online sports betting market added a significant new player Tuesday when the Sky Ute Casino Resort announced it will go online with its Sky Ute SportsBook. The launch is the product of a partnership between the Ignacio, Colo.-based Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Nevada-based sportsbook group USBookmaking, helmed by American Gaming Association Hall of Famer Vic Salerno. 

The launch marks possibly two U.S. industry firsts: the first Native American-owned sportsbook company (USBookmaking) to go live with a mobile sportsbook app outside Nevada, and the the first Native American property to go to market with a mobile sportsbook that’s available for download statewide. 

“The Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the state of Colorado have a good and longstanding relationship,” Charley Flagg, Sky Ute Casino’s general manager, told US Bets. “When Colorado voters approved proposition DD last November, this piece of legislation allowed the two tribes in the state to participate in online sports betting in accordance to each tribe’s compact, along with the other casinos operating in the state.

“The Sky Ute Casino Resort embraces online sports betting based on the belief that this will reshape the gaming landscape throughout the state. Excusing the pun, ‘the sky’s the limit’ when it comes to online sports betting.”

Colorado market attracting players big and small

(Courtesy Sky Ute Casino)

There are active sportsbooks at tribal-owned properties in several states, including New York, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oregon, but none in a jurisdiction where statewide mobile sports wagering is permitted. 

The Las Vegas-based US Bookmaking manages three sportsbook operations on tribal lands in New Mexico, beginning with the Santa Ana Star Casino near Albuquerque, which launched its brick-and-mortar sportsbook in October 2018. USBookmaking will soon also begin operating sportsbooks in Iowa and Michigan.

“We’re specialists in retail sports betting,” said Tom Willer,  USBookmaking’s marketing director. “The law here in Colorado allows mobile wagering and [Sky Ute] wanted to get involved on that front, so we’re bringing a sportsbook that will compete in retail and online.”

Sky Ute’s SportsBook will be joining a market already populated by national heavy-hitters including BetRivers, BetMGM, and FanDuel Sportsbook. USBookmaking will also have company in Colorado that hails from Nevada: The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook’s team of SuperBook USA will go live in the Centennial State, as will the Derek Stevens-owned Las Vegas-based casino Circa Resort & Casino. The foray outside Nevada is a first for both popular Las Vegas sportsbooks.

The Sky Ute Casino Resort is located near Colorado’s southern border with New Mexico, while the majority of Colorado’s casinos are concentrated west of Denver and Colorado Springs in the towns of Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek. 

First month in the books

While Colorado casinos remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first sportsbooks went live in Colorado on May 1. Like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, Colorado law permits patrons to register remotely for sports wagering accounts, which allowed bettors to access legal sportsbooks during the ongoing shutdowns. In the first month of legal sports wagering in Colorado, sportsbooks handled $25 million in wagers with a sports menu that consisted largely of table tennis, Korean baseball, German Bundesliga soccer, and a charity golf match involving Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Phil Mickelson, and Tom Brady.

Toward the end of 2020, legal Michigan sportsbooks associated with both commercial and tribal casinos are expected to go online. Several partnerships have been announced, including one recently between DraftKings and the Bay Mills Indian Community.  

Nationally, many tribal casinos have shown a reluctance to embrace online sports betting and remote registration, worried it might prevent gamblers from passing through casino doors instead of attracting new patrons. That was the thinking in Washington State when a tribal-backed sports betting bill passed in March that allows wagering on premises only, akin to Mississippi’s rules. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, in excess of 80% of betting handle has come via online channels.

“It is difficult to speculate on behalf of other tribes,” Flagg said. “Tribal gaming is very complex and if I had to venture, tribes are not hesitant on embracing online sports betting, necessarily — the issue probably pertains to individual gaming compacts between each tribe and state.  I would further speculate that the push for on-site sports wagering was based on a strategy that on-premise is more palatable than mobile from a negotiation standpoint.”

US Bookmaking and the Sky Ute’s foray, and later the experiences in Michigan, will begin to lay bare what a more open approach delivers.

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