Colorado’s Sky Ute Casino Launches US-First Tribal Sports Betting App

As the land-based gambling industry in Colorado prepares to restart, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe has made a bit of history with its new sports betting app.

Sky Ute SportsBook launched this week under the banner of the Sky Ute Casino, becoming the first tribal sports betting app available statewide in any US market.

Colorado online sports betting has rolled out swiftly since the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission (CLGCC) gave the go-ahead on May 1. Despite an absence of major sports to bet on due to COVID-19, a half-dozen apps launched in the first month.

Now there are seven. General Manager Charley Flagg promised that as a tribal property, Sky Ute’s sportsbook and app will offer bettors “the best odds in the state.”

Sky Ute SportsBook a first for US tribes

Sky Ute SportsBook is a joint venture between the Southern Ute tribe and USBookmaking, a Native American-owned sportsbook and odds management company based in Las Vegas.

USBookmaking operates retail sportsbooks in New Mexico and plans to open additional spots in Iowa and Michigan soon. It will also power Sky Ute’s retail sportsbook.

The lack of other tribal sportsbook apps is due in large part to a lack of overlap between states with tribal gaming and those that have legalized online gaming.

Coronavirus came at a bad time for Colorado

Colorado casinos shut down in mid-March along with the gambling industry throughout the rest of the US. The timing was unfortunate, as the May 1 launch date was supposed to include both retail and online sportsbooks. As a result of casino closures, it ended up being online only.

The situation parallels that in Michigan, to an extent. There it was the retail sportsbooks which launched this spring, and they did so mere days before the casinos closed.

Colorado is comparatively fortunate in that operators were at least able to get their apps up and running. There has, however, been very little to bet on. Virtually all pro sports leagues suspended their seasons the same week that casinos closed. College sports seasons ended up being cancelled entirely, though the NHL and NBA are now preparing to finish theirs.

All things considered, the first Colorado betting apps to launch did reasonably well, with $25 million in handle for May. That’s a far cry from the $500 million in average monthly handle needed to hit the most optimistic projections for the market.

Low numbers are to be expected, of course, when the most exciting events available to bet on include such things as Czech table tennis and Korean baseball.

Even well-established markets like New Jersey have seen sports betting revenue fall 80% or more due to the suspension of professional sports seasons. Colorado can therefore expect a strong uptick once play resumes.

Reopenings coming next week

One by one, states around the country have been giving their casino industries the green light to reopen. Soon it will be Colorado’s turn.

All 30+ commercial casinos in the state are located in one of three towns designated for that purpose: Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. Casinos in the latter will begin reopening on Monday, June 15, while the rest will follow on Wednesday.

Sky Ute Casino is one of two tribal properties in the state, neither of which has yet announced its reopening date. The timing for the state’s first retail sportsbooks is likewise up in the air.

Sky Ute told The Durango Herald that it originally hoped to open its on-site sportsbook on May 1 and launch the app some time later. Unfortunately, it was still midway through the requisite work when the coronavirus forced its shutdown.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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