Illegal Gambling in Colorado
(CRS 18-10-103)

In Colorado, illegal gambling is a criminal offense. There are limited situations where gambling and betting may be legal. Gambling outside those legal venues may result in a petty offense, misdemeanor, or felony charges. In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:

In Colorado, illegal gambling is a criminal offense. There are limited situations where gambling and betting may be legal.

1. What is illegal gambling in Colorado?

“‘Gambling' means risking any money, credit, deposit, or other thing of value for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance, the operation of a gambling device, or the happening or outcome of an event, including a sporting event, over which the person taking a risk has no control.”1

Gambling does not include contests of skill, strength, endurance, or speed, such as a race, sporting competition, or carnival games.

The state of Colorado limits legal gambling to:

  • The Colorado Lottery
  • Limited gaming in Colorado casinos (Black Hawk, Cripple Creek, and Central City)
  • Horse racing events through the Colorado Division of Racing
  • Licensed bingo, raffles, and charitable games
  • Social gambling

Illegal gambling is sometimes associated with organized crime and racketeering. The state of Colorado heavily regulates gambling and has made most gambling illegal. The reason the state restrains individuals from participating in gambling activities is to “safeguard the public against the evils induced by common gamblers and coming gambling houses.”2

1.1. Professional Gambling

Professional gambling is not a term for people who make a living from playing poker. Professional gambling is a term for someone who profits from illegal gambling. Professional gambling has higher penalties than standard gambling. Professional gambling means:

  • “Aiding or inducing another to engage in gambling, with the intent to derive a profit therefrom; or
  • Participating in gambling and having, other than by virtue of skill or luck, a lesser chance of losing or a greater chance of winning than one or more of the other participants.”3

1.2. Social Gambling Exception

There is an exception to gambling known as the “social gambling” exception. This includes any game, wager, or transaction which is incidental to a bona fide social relationship, participated in by natural persons only, and in which no person is participating in professional gambling.”4

Social gambling may include friends who gather together for poker night. It may also cover family members who have friendly bets going for who will win the Super Bowl. However, it may not include a poker night that is organized for the purpose of holding a tournament.

1.3. Is gambling allowed for charitable events?

There is limited gambling allowed for charitable events. Charitable organizers can sponsor gambling events at a licensed casino in Colorado. If the charitable organization wants to hold a gaming event outside of the gaming towns, they must ensure the game is not considered illegal gambling. Charitable gaming events do not qualify under the social gambling exception.

1.4. Is internet gambling legal?

According to the Colorado Attorney General and the Limited Gaming Control Commission, internet gambling and telephone sports book betting are illegal. Under C.R.S. 18-10-106, transmitting gambling information by telephone, telegraph, radio, or other means is class 3 misdemeanor. However, if the offender is a repeat gambling offender, transmitting gambling information may be a class 6 felony.

Even if the internet gambling business is located in another state or overseas, under Colorado law, a bet is placed where the person placing the bet is located. An individual could be charged with gambling if they place a bet on their home computer even if the company is based in a place where internet gambling is legal.

2. What are the penalties for illegal gambling in Colorado?

The penalties for participating in illegal gambling in Colorado depend on the type of activity involved and the defendant's criminal history.

Gambling is a class 1 petty offense. The penalty for a petty gambling offense in Colorado is up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $500.5

Professional gambling is a class 1 misdemeanor, with penalties including 6 to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. If the defendant has a prior professional gambling conviction, they may face a class 5 felony. The penalties for felony professional gambling include 1 to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.6

Anyone who owns, sells, possesses, or uses a gambling device or gambling record is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. Penalties for a class 2 misdemeanor conviction include 3 to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If the defendant is a repeat gambling offender, they may face a class 6 felony. The penalties for felony gambling device possession include 12 to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. 7

In addition to jail time and fines, any gambling devices, records, or proceeds are subject to seizure by police and may be confiscated and destroyed.8

3. What are the defenses to gambling charges?

There are a number of possible defenses to gambling charges. Gambling generally requires three elements, including consideration, chance, and a reward. If any of the elements are not present, the activity may not be considered gambling.

A poker tournament where there is no fee or buy-in, or no payment required from participants may not be gambling. Even if the players are participating in a game of chance with prize money awarded to the winners, they did not put up any money to play.

Similarly, a charitable event could have a casino night as long as money or prizes are not based on the winners. If participants charged a donation or fee to buy in, they cannot offer rewards for winners. Prizes could be awarded based on a random drawing or raffle, as long as the rewards are not directly related to those who won the games of chance.

4. Related Offenses

4.1. Money Laundering C.R.S. 18-5-309

Money laundering involves moving money around to try and evade the government's ability to track the source of the funds. Money laundering may be used to hide money that was gained from illegal gambling. Money laundering is a class 3 felony in Colorado, and the penalties include 4 to 12 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000.

4.2. Racketeering C.R.S. 18-17-104

Racketeering is a pattern of criminal activity generally committed by gangs or organized crime. This includes gambling, loan-sharking, fencing stolen property, or drug distribution. Racketeering is a felony, with penalties including up to 24 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

Call us for help...

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If you have been accused of illegal gambling or running a gambling operation, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. Our caring Colorado defense attorneys have many years of experience representing clients who have been charged with criminal offenses. We are among the best Colorado criminal defense attorneys to call. Contact us today for a free consultation by phone or in-person or in our Denver law office.

Legal References

  1. C.R.S. 18-10-101(1)
  2. C.R.S. 18-10-102(2)
  3. C.R.S. 18-10-102(8)
  4. C.R.S. 18-10-102(2)(d)
  5. C.R.S. 18-10-103(1)
  6. C.R.S. 18-10-103(2)
  7. C.R.S. 18-10-105
  8. C.R.S. 18-10-104

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